Sunday book review – Claxton by Mark Cocker

9781448191994This is a lovely book. It has appeared in lots of lists of nature books of the year over the last few weeks as it was published in 2014, but I’ve only just been reading it over Christmas and the New Year and so, for me, it is a book of 2015.

Day by day through the year, Mark Cocker explores the parish where he lives, and occasionally he sallies forth.

The writing, as one would expect, is beautiful. The observation, as one would expect, is accurate. The remarks, as one would expect, are thoughtful and provoke more thought in the reader (at least in this one).

I could go on, but this is a lovely book which I enjoyed very much.

Claxton: field notes from a small planet by Mark Cocker is published by Jonathan Cape.


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



What you think of coalitions

When respondents to my readers’ survey were asked which political parties they would like to see in coalition government there was a great outpouring of enthusiasm for the Green Party to be in the mix – more so than either of the two main parties:


But if we break the answers down according to whether the respondent chose Labour in preference to Conservative or vice versa strong differences emerge.


Respondents who preferred Labour to Conservative

Chart_Q3_141230 (2)Respondents who preferred Conservative to Labour

Chart_Q3_141230 (3)Interesting?


Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill

ecosystem valuation




The growth of the readership of this blog

Fullscreen capture 02012015 172434

2012: 50,867 unique readers

2013: 71,658 unique readers

2014: 135,053 unique readers


…and you are all very welcome.



Last and first

My last bird species of 2014 was a briefly glimpsed owl at Otmoor and I’m not sure which one it was. I can be sure that I didn’t end 2014 seeing my first ever Snowy Owl (a species high on my bucket-list of bird species) nor was it my first Little Owl of 2014 (yes, another year of slightly inept birding passes without me seeing one of these little beauts!). I am almost completely sure that it wasn’t a Barn Owl, and fairly sure that it wasn’t a Tawny, which leaves us with SEO and LEO and no way to choose between them, and not complete certainty that that is actually the choice anyway!

It was a fitting and momentarily humbling (I’ve got over it, completely) end to the year.

I can tell you that one of the last bird species of the year was a party of Long-tailed Tits making their way down an Otmoor hedge; calling and silhouetted against the last glow of the set sun.  And we saw those as we left the ‘blind’ (which is a place for seeing) overlooking the Otmoor reedbed into which, in the opposite of the conjuror’s trick with pulling rabbits out of hats, about 20,000 Starlings had poured themselves.

It had been a moderate spectacle rather than an ‘Ooooh! Ahhhh!’ spectacle.  There were lots of birds but maybe the chill air had made them undisposed to dispose themselves and disport themselves in amoeba-like flowing movements over the reedbeds. They had, on the whole, just poured in, in long streams (making me think ‘Passenger Pigeons’).  They were still a fine sight though, and the c20 people assembled to watch did not act as though they felt short-changed at all.

So that was how 2014 ended as far as birds were concerned.

2015 began with the call of a Robin and then the sight of a Blackbird.  There are plenty more where they came from.  When will I hear the first Blackbird song of spring? Have you noticed that the nights are drawing out already?

Happy New Year!


So you think that nature conservation isn’t a political subject (2)

Do you think that driven grouse shooting should be banned?

Apparently, two-thirds of you do:

Chart_Q9_141230If we break that down into those who would vote Labour in preference to Conservative then 87% are in favour of a ban of driven grouse shooting:


Chart_Q9_141230 (2)

And if we select those that would vote Conservative in preference to Labour then only 25% support a ban:

Chart_Q9_141230 (3)

It’s hardly surprising that left-leaning and right-leaning voters think differently about an industry that makes its money out of very rich people and where the question uses the word ‘ban’.

The Conservatives don’t look as though they will ever do anything about the ills of driven grouse shooting so they are a bit of a lost cause on this subject, but if you were a Labour politician you might pause and wonder quite how many of your voters you would please and how many you would upset if you put ‘Ban driven grouse shooting’ in your election manifesto.  Mightn’t you? Really?

Of course, if you want to ban driven grouse shooting then you should add your name to over 20,000 others on this e-petition on the government website.

Data come from 0ver 700 responses to a readers’ poll on this website carried out over a three week period in December 2014.




Your feedback on this blog

Here is a selection (every 10th comment, listed chronologically (earliest at top of list)) of the free-text comments in answer to ‘Your opportunity to give feedback of any kind on my blog or anything else you like’.


Excellent, well informed.

Always very interesting and refreshing to read what needs to be said unencumbered by organisational constraints. Always well balanced, evidence based, and articulate. Keep it up Mark and thank you for being the voice for nature and the voice for change (for the better)!

It’s the most stimulating conservation forum currently available!

Thank you for enlightening me on what goes on outside of my urban bubble. I know you do lot of talks. Would be good to see some these recorded on video. I look forward to 2015 with anticipation of a ban building so much that Labour call for it in their manifesto

I do not comment often. As a tenant farmer I need to have an alias! We do lots of conservation work on the farm and find the RSPB to be very helpful. [A named RSPB staff member] was here last week asking for our advice! Buglife helped create a B line meadow last year. I worry that some of the Wildlife Trusts have grouse moor owners as trustees. Keep up the good work

I think it’s been a bad political year for wildlife, but at last I think the tide may be turning. Listen to the Scottish gamekeepers latest plea for a law change to allow them to control BOPs. They are under pressure and feeling that they are losing the publicity battle. Fight hard, keep fighting, and that tide will turn and perhaps all wildlife has a chance to be considered as part of our future.

I support your position on wildlife crime in its entirety I don’t support all your opinions I don’t support your position on how to deal with driven grouse shooting, but I support your use of the petition to get attention for it I would like to hear a blog on your view of the recent ramblings by Matt Ridley on your involvement in poor science for the neonectiids ban, I was surprised by that (follow the link in his post on it to another blog that has a photo of a doc with your name in it) Best wishes and happy new year

Keep up the good work, but don’t assume that you are always preaching to the converted.

Keep up the good work Mark. I’d not heard of you before this year but your a useful conduit of information. Merry xmas.

almost always interesting, don’t always agree, not too po-faced survey didn’t have a don’t know column

From a Norfolk resident, your blog entertains, informs and amuses every morning before work and evrry evening when I get home. I have paid particular attention to your Catfield blogs. This case has increased my disatisfaction with ea and ne who except for a few admirable individuals are driven by politics and pressure rather than science and ecology. Voices such as yours ensure there is pressure from ‘our’ side and I thankyou personally for that. Your words are an inspiration and a reassurance that our nation may overcome the current malaise toward conservation one day. Please keep pressure on with Catfield, it is not over yet, not with Ms Truss in post and NFU lobbying heavily. Them Norfolk lettuces are critical for feeding the nation and keeping the economy afloat, apparently.

Great work. Very informative. Continue putties pressure on the wildlife criminals

Keep up the good work. Your blog is the first thing I check on waking and sets me up mentally for the day.

its great. a good source of information, of how and where to apply pressure, good contributions and contributors and good debate. I also like your more ‘lyrical’ writing. could happily do without the cartoon, but understand you need a rest, and the book reviews I generally leave. I like good company, good weather (and bad) and the outdoors.

Keep it up – I like the frequency and variety

I encourage my youngsters to read your blog and “all” the comments to get a rounded view on what is going on in the world of consevation.

Love them. Really interesting. Thanks Mark!

Always enjoy your blog.

Please keep fighting.You’ve done a great deal to raise the profile of wildlife conservation at a critical (and very depressing) time. Thank you so much for this. And give up on Labour – they don’t have a long-term perspective, they don’t care about the environment and they are not addressing in any substantive or consistent way the fundamental issues that face us as a society and as a species. Join the Green Party !

Stop driving the RSPB into the extremist corner

I think field sports can do a lot of good for conservation, planting of woods and wild bird plots etc.

Keep up the good work of exposing the “nature haters” e.g. NFU, Countryside Alliance, Gamekeepers organisations, BASC, Conservative Party, UKIP

Always an interesting read. Keep it up!

An excellent blog and I particularly like some of the summaries you provide e.g. key reasons why we should ban driven grouse shooting and an overview of supportive actions we can take for conservation such as e-petitions. The guest blogs are also very informative, it’s great to see the range of people involved in different aspects of conservation and the passion they have for their particular area of interest. Overall the blog inspires me to speak up, speak out and be more active for wildlife. Thank you

A move to deal with LACS is a bad one and you would not continue to get my support.

Always an excellent read speaking the truth about the environment and nature. Standing up for nature on important issues

Always well written, unfortunately never balanced

Less entrenched views would be appreciated, not all gamekeepers poison birds of prey.

Very anti shooting. Often boring.

This is a truly terrible questionaire, biased and of zero value to anyone other than maybe the eejit who wrote it

More on Walshaw please. Have you dug deep enough there? Why no outcry from you or RSPB on outcome of the General Licence review by NE? Why are the NGO’s not fighting for NE? Big budget cuts for it forecast for next year. How many people with an ecological qualification now appear in their management hierarchy?

Some reasonable articles, some poorly researched.

Really enjoy your blog Mark. Usually the first thing I read over breakfast. Keep up the pressure on both the bad guys and the good guys that seem to have lost their way a bit.

Please excuse my coyness for never posting comments.

Thanks for all you are doing to help make people think about what conservation it’s and what it could be, and also for showing how effective social media can be to help spread the message

driven grouse shooting protects a great deal of wildlife and it is being prooven that managed moorland holds more birds than that unmanaged

You have the right to say what you do, I disagree with you most of the time. As a shooting man I do not like the WWT, RSPB and BASC working together. Its a war to save shooting and BASC staff should be take out and XXXXXX for working with the enemy

Your blog is a self optionated load of rubbish designed only to further your own interest from the self pity of uneducated public members whose lack of knowledge of their opinions only proves how easy it is to sway public feeling based on your ill founded rants ! Mine over the countryside belongs to no one but should be appreciated by all for all it provides wether you agree with it or not people have vested interests and good jobs that provide community something politicians talk about but know nothing about your included in that

Love your blog – informative and entertaining

Don’t ban any sort of hunting/shooting as it keeps the countryside in order…

Driven grouse shooting is a perfectly legal and traditional U.K. country sport and it involves conservation of habitat for many species of birds in addition to grouse. The opposition to it seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon from people who are not only out of touch with reality but also incapable of debating the subject rationally with those who are prepared to spend good money to conserve the native grouse population. The objectors often seem to promote their cause by acting like terrorists, i.e. by wearing masks and acting aggressively, I believe their motivation is based on a combination of jealousy of the people who shoot, and their need continually to create new ways of stimulating gullible subscribers to maintain the objectors salaries and blatant propaganda machines. It is a matter for conjecture as to the number of objector activists who could secure a regular income from “normal” jobs occupied by their subscribers.

Before anyone goes and starts banning things they need to fully understand everything about it not just the particular ‘banned’ thing. In this case the habitat and the wildlife impacts should a ban go ahead. No grouse, no new heather, no song birds, heather beetle munching away, no heather, moorland turned to moonscapes of dead ground with nothing there except decay. Then there is a direct human impact too. In the community I live in over 75% of them rely on Grouse shooting to make a living. Then their families etc etc. Remove this income the moors will be decimated so will the community.

It’s required reading for all in the environment sector, all politicians and everyone else for that matter

I think that your blog has become an important point of reference for anyone who cares about wildlife and wishes to keep up to date with the issues and, hopefully, campaign about it. Martin Harper’s blog is also good but I find yours more entertaining to read.

I would like to see it look a bit more professional. The layout is a bit bland and looks a little amateurish. A proper make over would give the content more weight and cachet if that makes sense. I think your ‘brand’ would benefit from a custom website rather than a off the shelf blog.

Most of The Environment is sea.

This has been an interesting year for I joined Twitter, discovered Mark Avery and his blog and the debate around grouse shooting and Hen Harriers has been a new subject for me. While I have signed the petition as I am fed up with the killing of raptors and the lack of culpability for landowners I still don’t feel assured that vast tracts of upland Britain would be good habitats if the estates were not managed for shooting. I sometimes wake up here and fear I’m in bed with some who are anti-land ownership in principle and/or against the killing of any animal which is contrary to my own conservative (small c) convictions. I had not heard of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust before this year and sometimes, the way they are denigrated here when they seem to do a lot of good work, makes me wonder. On the whole though I enjoy this blog and admire Mark’s drive (excuse the pun!) and passion and we need a bit of an uncomfortable ride sometimes in order to make important points.

Excellent blog always important up to date information

Keep it up. Good that someone is holding the conservation movement to account. Great that you are campaigning for hen harriers and farmland birds in particular

you get understandably angry at times I feel your efforts will be better rewarded if you try to limit the times anger dominates your writing and speaking.

I find the blog very informative. However, I usually forget to look at it unless I see a tweet about it.

I’m passionate about saving all our raptors & abhor the way they are being slaughtered on moorland & large estates. It’s abhorrent!

Just keep doing what you’re doing Mark, you are needed.

Thanks for standing up for Nature.

You’re an inspiring figure Mark, please keep up the good work. Your hen harrier work in particular must, I’m sure, have resulted in you receiving lots of negative comments, personal attacks etc., but it feels like we’re starting to make real progress here and I believe that that is largely due to your efforts. Best wishes.

I enjoy the blog Mark even though I don’t agree with everything that you say. I don’t think that there is much to choose between the main political parties on env. policies and I wouldn’t (necessarily) vote as indicated above if the env. were my sole and over-riding concern. I think you’ve been very useful in radicalising the RSPB to some extent on a range of issues but at times you are rather too close to the party line on certain issues such as windfarms (offshore and onshore). The line that the RSPB (rather than, say, Greenpeace) should perhaps be the untenable one of nuclear. I still feel you haven’t dealt with the issue of what large landowners will do with their moors if and when driven grouse are BANNED. I fear the worst in fact. There are ways to make money from large holdings in the north other than driven grouse and many of these are far more damaging to overall biodiversity than the current status quo (as we saw in the 1970s when grouse moors were in the doldrums).

Many of the areas that I watch birds on are managed by Gamekeepers. They have many more birds than the unkeepered / unmanaged areas, yet you seem to class the whole shooting fraternity as law breakers and bad for Nature. This is not my experience but I agree that there is a significant minority that are law breakers. I do shoot myself, very infrequently, but I do enjoy the challenge and the game dishes I can enjoy afterwards too. We do not need new rules, just implement the existing ones properly. The punishment for the recent example of the keeper that was caught with dead Birds of Prey was totally inadequate and no deterrent at all.

I’d love to read every day’s post but life just isn’t that easy. I do follow as much as possible and I like the balanced views which are better expressed than some of the more extreme blogs. The latter encourage bad language and extremism, yours doesn’t.

Keep up the good work.

Excellent stuff, Mark. Keep up the good work! And come to Shetland…

Keep up the good work, fighting for birds (and other wildlife) and suchlike!

Thanks for the effort you put into producing it. I’m Scottish, so a lot of what you write about is Anglo-centric, but still useful to see what is happening in what is an increasingly seperate country

I enjoy your blog,and have just started commenting on such things (I recently did on the Telegraph website after the recent Charles Moore article. It does sadden me to read all of the vitriolic posts and misinformed opinions, but it’s really fascinating and enlightening to have these discussions, even if many are intransigent (probably on both sides of the debate, whatever that debate may be)

Keep up the good work and fight the good fight. I think highlighting other issues on the driven grouse shooting/criminality angle is important. I think a decisive shift in perceptions on related issues might cause most movement in the political debate. Look at causes and costs of wildfires caused by muirburn, CO2 emmissions, the changes in conservation status of some iconic species like mountain hares, subsides for the rich landowner and really look at the proceeeds of crime legislation. If we can confiscate an egg-collectors car, we need to give some serious thought to what we can confiscate from a criminal keeper and a landowner. From my discussions with police officers it seems that only keepers are allowed to delibrately break the law with firearms and get to keep their firearms certificate. That can’t be right and the police are apparently scared to infringe on a keepers “right” to hold a shotgun licence. Does it require members of the public to write to the police and complain about a specific convicted keeper being unfit to hold a firearms licence for this issue to progress? Perhaps a blog from a lawyer on this? I bet there would be lots of comments and feedback. I also think comparisons between what Scotland and England are doing differently on this issue is worthy of comment. Cheers

Mark, you are one of very few people unafraid to get stuck into conservation issues and not pussy foot around. Of course it helps that you’re independent of other organizations. Keep up the good work. I may comment on your blog in the future!

I do not complete on line surveys because most survey organisations leave a trailing cookie in your computer. I strongly object to this. However I have completed your survey as I support your activities – apart from your ‘promotion’ of the Labour party. Clearly politicians and their policies have a major impact on our environment but why not present a ‘non partisan’ aspect to environmental matters in your blog.

Fewer higher quality tweets.

An honest opinion? One sided anti rubbish, but good for a laugh!

I find your posts to be thoughtful, well-researched, and entirely relevant – please keep up the good work; you’re one of the best we have standing up against wildlife crime.

I am a new reader and in 2014 discovered who you are and what you do, found you through Chris Packham.

Thanks for all your efforts in highlighting raptor persecution and the abuse of our uplands.


So you think that nature conservation isn’t a political subject? (1)

Happy New Year!

If you answered the questions in the readers’ survey then, ‘Thank you!’.  There will be several blog posts over the next few days giving you what I think are some of the more interesting answers.

There were two questions in the readers’ survey that gave respondents the choice between just two political parties in a hypothetical general election held tomorrow.  The choices were between Labour and Conservative, and between The Green Party and UKIP.

Respondents to this survey were 68% Labour v 32% Conservative, and 80% Green v 20%UKIP.  The vast majority (98%) of those who chose Labour also chose Green, and a strong majority (59%) of those who chose Conservative also chose UKIP.

When asked about which wildlife NGOs had had a good year in 2014, the breakdown of answers was very different for those of different political persuasions.




Respondents showing a preference for The Green Party over UKIP


Respondents showing a preference for UKIP over The Green Party

Chart_Q1_141230-1 (2)Respondents showing a preference for Labour over Conservative

Chart_Q1_141230-1 (3)

Respondents showing a preference for Conservative over Labour

Chart_Q1_141230-1 (4)What I take from this is:

  • a few wildlife NGOs are strongly liked/respected/admired and get the thumbs up from everyone – these are especially the BTO and Butterfly Conservation.
  • ‘Conservative’ respondents think that the RSPB had a bad year (far worse than any other NGO) and UKIP respondents (and there will be an overlap remember) think this even more strongly. Whether this is anything to do with the RSPB’s policy on anything substantial, or whether it is to do with the name of the magazine or ‘Vote for Bob’ is impossible to tell from this survey. At least part of it will be due to a pulse of pro-shooting respondents that all arrived at a similar time, presumably tipped off by somebody or some organisation.
  • those who like some wildlife NGOs don’t like others – those who think that the GWCT had a good year are very unlikely to think that the RSPB also had a good year.
  • left-leaning respondents are likely to think that the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Butterfly Conservation had a good year whereas right-leaning respondents are likely to think that GWCT and BASC had good years.

So, obviously there is no politics in nature conservation and we are all completely on the same side, wanting the same things, and agreeing on the means to achieve our shared goals. Right.







Some of the best of Oscar Dewhurst’s photos from 2014

I’m grateful to Oscar for letting me feature his photographs here on Sunday evenings. Visit his website to see more of this talented young photographer’s work.

Here are just a few of his images that I have liked most this year.

Photo: Oscar Dewhurst

Photo: Oscar Dewhurst




Great Thrush


Blue-and-Yellow Macaws


Swallow-tailed Kite






















2014 for Hen Harriers in pictures

Photo: Jim Nettle

Photo: Jim Nettle



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Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock


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hen harrier(1)

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons









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