You should read this in Birdwatch

1408 p001 cover_with comp v2.inddI have a great affection for Birdwatch magazine. First, they pay me to sound off about whatever is on my mind at the time and that is just completely lovely of them! Second, they put a Hen Harrier on the cover of the August issue with the headline ‘Stop killing our harriers’ and have been great supporters of the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting. But it’s just generally a very good magazine for the thoughtful birder.  Birdwatch has a whole stable of talented birders and talented writers. One person who qualifies on both counts is Mark Cocker and I always read his pieces several times because they are worth it.  And his article in the December issue is, as ever, well worth reading and thinking about.

Every issue has great photographs of birds, common birds and rare birds, and I always learn some identification tips which I then promptly forget or, if I remember them, never have the opportunity to use.  This issue has just stunning images of Eastern Crowned Warblers and Rough-legged Buzzards.

But I always read my own column, ‘the political birder’, as soon as my copy of Birdwatch arrives – partly to remind myself of what I wrote several weeks earlier and partly to see what images have been inserted alongside the text.  This issue has my column talking about the Rally for Nature on 9 December.

After reading my column, I turned the page and found myself in familiar territory –  an excellent 4-page article entitled ‘Getting away with murder‘ about grouse moor management written anonymously by a raptor worker.  It’s understandable that it is anonymous because this guy clearly has to deal with gamekeepers quite a lot and it is an excellent summary of what is happening up in the hills from an insider’s perspective. Please read it and then come to the same conclusion as the author – please sign the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

It is a fascinating read – but you’ll have to buy it for yourself to find out.


A little Stanwick bird quiz – and there’s a prize.

Stanwick Lakes visitor centre at the end of my walk (c1015). If I had taken a photo at the beginning too (c0745) the grass and roof would both have been frosted. Home of an excellent bacon sandwich - but not for me today.

Stanwick Lakes visitor centre


I’ve seen 154 species at my local patch of Stanwick Lakes since  I started using Birdtrack in 2004. Here are 149 of them.

Which are the missing five?


Mute Swan
Whooper Swan
Pink-footed Goose
White-fronted Goose
Greylag Goose
Canada Goose
Red-crested Pochard
Tufted Duck
Common Scoter
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-legged Partridge
Little Egret
Great White Egret
Grey Heron
Sacred Ibis
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Black-necked Grebe
Black Kite
Red Kite
Marsh Harrier
Hen Harrier
Water Rail
Golden Plover
Grey Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Ringed Plover
Black-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit
Curlew Sandpiper
Little Stint
Common Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Black Tern
Common Tern
Arctic Tern
Black-headed Gull
Little Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Common Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Iceland Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Stock Dove
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Barn Owl
Little Owl
Long-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Carrion Crow
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Sand Martin
House Martin
Cetti’s Warbler
Long-tailed Tit
Willow Warbler
Garden Warbler
Lesser Whitethroat
Grasshopper Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Spotted Flycatcher
Yellow Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Pied Wagtail
Meadow Pipit
Linnet (yuk!)
Redpoll (Common/Lesser)
Common Crossbill
Reed Bunting


It’s mostly for fun, but the first correct answer, to be posted as a comment on this blog, will get a signed copy of either Fighting for Birds or A Message from Martha sent to them, or a lucky friend perhaps, in the post (UK addresses only).

Regular habituees of Stanwick Lakes are excluded from this competition (that’s Steve and Bob). One entry per person.  Entries close 10pm 4 December.

So, you are looking for five species of birds that I’ve seen at Stanwick Lakes since 2004, they are all very familiar or reasonably familiar species. If you have been a birder over the last decade you will probably have seen all of them.

Answers next Friday morning, 5 December.


We’re all on the same side really?

Amanda Anderson has handled her own PR company and the public relations of the Moorland Association for several years – now she is the Director of the Moorland Association.

But she seems to have rather lost her temper in drafting this letter to the Durham Times. Maybe her boss, Moorland Association Chair Robert Benson lost his temper.

in response to misleading information from the RSPB

fictitious reporting from a charity which spends £19 million a year pedalling out one-sided, sometimes inaccurate and often ambiguous PR material

Just remember RSPB, we’re all on the same side really…


PS If grouse shooting creates 1500 jobs and 42,500 days work, then aren’t those jobs for 30 days a year on average? A whole bunch of beaters I guess (so not really 1500 jobs, eh?).

PPS we really would be better off without driven grouse shooting


Wet, wet, wet

By Alpsdake, via Wikimedia Commons

By Alpsdake, via Wikimedia Commons

If you are keeping water on a wetland for the benefit of wetland wildlife then it occupies some of the volume that could otherwise have been used for flood storage.

This can give rise to the claim that the schemes that benefit wetland wildlife that have exacerbated flood impacts. To some extent this is bound to be true – but to what extent?

Hardly any, according to this summary (of this full report) from the Somerset Levels – remember the Somerset Levels?

‘The assessment finds that the volume of water maintained within ditches, and corresponding reduction in flood storage capacity, represents a very small fraction of the volume of flood water stored on the moors during major flood events. Expressed both as a proportion of the maximum flood volume or change in flood level, the calculations indicate that winter raised water level areas have only a very minor impact on large flood events. Water levels for agriculture in summer occupy larger volumes, but these are still small compared to volumes of water stored on the moors during major flood events.’

In other words, as is so often true when we think about it, we can wildlife with very little trouble at all.  That’s nice isn’t it?



Tug! Tug!

photoMy blog of yesterday, about what Labour could do to win back some green voters, seems to have struck a chord.

Or actually, I think it is just yet another example of social media showing me (and others) that there are plenty of others out there in the big, wide world who are thinking similarly to us.

Do have a look at my blog and particularly the comments on it. It’s a small sample, but there are plenty of people thinking of leaving Labour for the Greens it seems – some of them have already gone. That won’t include me for a while yet but I can feel the tug. Tug! Tug!

Labour are also feeling they must react to this trend too, but the ham-fisted Guardian article by Sadiq Khan is more likely to drive more people into the arms of the Greens than to persuade them to stay.  Although it is stated that voting for Labour is voting for a green government there is pressure little evidence adduced in the article. It’s all about the past, and attacking the Greens, rather than persuading us that Labour has a green coat.  Tug! Tug!

And I am grateful to Paul for pointing me, and you, I suggest, to the Political Compass website. By going through the questions I discover I am very much a ‘Libertarian Leftie’ – apparently Gandhi and I were on the same wavelength which surprised me and might have shocked him. But I am positioned right next to the Green Party on the relevant chart. Tug! Tug!

Now, I don’t know how good this website is. Maybe whatever answers you put in it tells you that you are a Green! Where is Trimbush when you need him? I’d be interested to hear whether others find themselves positioned in a place that surprised them. I’m not asking you to say where you are positioned (though you are very welcome to do so) but just whether it was where you expected.

Vote for Policies is another similar (and maybe even better) website which tells me that I am Green. Tug! Tug!

The Labour manifesto had better be inspiring or else support will bleed away.  There are plenty of good environmental policies that can go into the manifesto to distinguish Labour from the Tories – let’s see them please.  Otherwise – Tug! Tug!





So much to say

how-to-double-your-number-of-known-legators-in-12-months-andrew-gilruth-gwct-8-728Mountain Hares – make your wills!

Greater love hath no Mountain Hare than he lay down his life for someone else’s grouse shooting.

Please help to put an end to driven grouse shooting.




Why Labour is doing badly – and how it could do better

photoIt’s a matter of head and heart isn’t it?

I am not terribly tribal in my politics.  I have been too pragmatic in my life to believe that one side has all the good guys, all the wisdom and all the solutions. That can’t possibly be the case, can it?

There are plenty of politicians of other political parties whom I admire, and actually, at the moment, rather few Labour politicians I admire. If challenged to name the members of other parties whom I ‘like’ (a rather lame term) and admire then I would include Norman Lamb, Vince Cable and Norman Baker.  Of the Tories there are Ken Clarke, Theresa May (for character rather than policies) and Zac Goldsmith. And then there is the incomparable Caroline Lucas of the Greens.

I would much rather the two free-thinking, environmentally-expert MPs, Caroline Lucas and Zac Goldsmith , were re-elected than that they were replaced with non-environmental Labour MPs.  We need every pro-environment MP in the House of Commons that we can get.

But I was reminded when driving through Yorkshire on Sunday morning, listening to Desert Island Discs on the car radio, when Theresa May was on (and I do admire her) that I could never be a Conservative when she said that she was a Tory because decisions are better made by the individual than by the government. I don’t really believe that. It is often true, but I don’t want to believe it. What I want to believe, and do believe, is what is written on the back of my Labour Party membership card, in red letters, that ‘ by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone‘.

Labour is the party of cooperation, internationalism, fairness and compassion, as far as I am concerned.

But Labour is rarely the party of the environment and very rarely the party of wildlife and rural issues.  When in power, Labour often does a passable environmental job, as it did in its last go at running the country, but it rarely sounds like it is a naturally environmental party. And that’s a shame for those of us who care passionately about the environment.

Only a personal lapse by my Labour MP, Andy Sawford, could put me off voting for him and I’ll be leafletting on his behalf on the run-in to the general election, for sure.

But even for the committed, we want our chosen political party to give us something to cheer about. It’s a bit like a football supporter wants victory, but if not victory then at least that the team has played its heart out and given us something to applaud.  We want a reason to believe.

Labour, at the moment, is playing a rather dull game (speaking as a supporter).  Boring, boring Labour, perhaps?  You appear to be taking my support for granted (and you probably can, that’s the trouble) when you ought to be giving me a reason to believe in you.  That’s what you are doing wrong (and, by the way, a few wildlife NGOs are making the same mistake too).

But surely there are so many open goals into which Maria Eagle can stick a few balls, that the environmental aspects of the Labour manifesto could, surely, more or less write themselves. Here are a few examples:

  • photopromise to put in a complete network of marine protected areas – Labour started this off with the Marine Act, the ConDems have completely failed to make progress, and it’s a job that needs to be finished off
  • ban lead ammunition following the Quito agreement a couple of weeks ago (supported by the UK as part of the EU delegation) – and this is also unfinished business for Labour as Michael Meacher brought in the initial ban of leade ammunition for wildfowl in England
  • ban driven grouse shooting – we now know that grouse moor management puts up the water bills of the many, and increases the insurance bills of the many, and worsens the climate for all, and deprives the many of the chance to see ‘protected’ wildlife and all for the profit of the few. Come on – whose side are you on?
  • introduce vicarious liability for wildlife crime – it takes the pressure off the working class gamekeeper and distributes some of that pressure to the rich and powerful so they cannot avoid the consequences of crime on their land and on their behalf
  • commit to reducing bovine tb in cattle by all means necessary, even killing badgers if necessary, but with the emphasis on improvements in biosecurity and through vaccination of cattle and badgers
  • ensure value for money for the taxes of all when agri-environment funds are spent on rewarding the few – why does Labour always bend to the will of the NFU’s self-interest?

Have you noticed that all of the above are examples of where the government needs to make sure that the interests of the many take precedence over the profits of the few?

Those are just a few examples, of course, but they indicate the type of measure on the environment that would get me cheering again. I want to cheer.  There’s a big game coming up at the end of the season and it’s a few days later than the FA Cup Final.

Surely, between the two of them, a couple of Eagles can get this right for the manifesto? Come on Maria and Angela – give us something to cheer.  That’s all you need to do.

Give me a couple of environmental policies that excite me and I’ll be happy because I believe in Labour and want to put all the doubts aside.



Nearly six months

SCREENOn Thursday morning our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting will be only six months old and yet it has gathered over 19,500 signatures. Thank you to all who have signed.

I think it is perfectly possible that we will pass the 20,000 barrier by Christmas Day, maybe much earlier, and every added signature sends a message to decision makers that we want them to act on raptor persecution (and indeed the wider environmental damage caused by grouse shooting and its associated (mis-)management of land.

We are in the run-up to a general election that is likely to be hard-fought and narrowly won (that is, if anyone will claim to have won it on 8 May).  There is no better time to tell politicians to act for the natural environment and to challenge them to tell you, a voter, what they will do. Election manifestos are being drafted and the electorate can  call the shots. This is your opportunity to make a difference for wildlife by making your views heard.  That’s why there will be a Rally for Nature on 9 December, the penultimate day of the grouse shooting season.

If you can come to Westminster on that day then please sign up here. If you can’t attend in person, then you can still make your views known by emailing your MP and also by signing this e-petition to highlight the plight of Hen Harriers. Please do something…


‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’

(remark attributed to Edmund Burke)


North West Birdwatching Fair

Martin Mere

Martin Mere

It was better than fair – it was good.

I spoke to lots of nice people, and the very nicest ones bought copies of A Message from Martha too!

That included the very nice Mike Dilger.  He was speaking at Martin Mere before my talk on Saturday and you couldn’t ask for a better warm-up act!

The Wilde family were present and I bought some Christmas cards off them.  Good luck Findlay at the RSPCA Animal Hero awards do in London tomorrow evening. Nice suit!

I enjoyed meeting Tom Clare who is the warden at Martin Mere. Nice guy.

There were at least a dozen of the ‘#Sodden570′ in the sell-out audience for my talk (the tickets were free!) and we talked about Passenger Pigeons and grouse moors and Hen Harriers.

Wildsounds let me help them sell a few of my books and we sold about 15, which seemed pretty good to me.

I met a talented photographer who has taken some marvellous Hen Harrier images – his name is Phil Boardman and here is his Flickr photostream.

I had lots of talks in the margins about ‘what next?’ for Hen Harrier Day and it is clear that there are plenty of people out there who are impatient for some progress on this issue. The people who talk to me are a bit impatient with the RSPB but have totally lost patience with the shooting community and have nothing good to say about the lack of progress by government to address wildlife crime in the past four and a half years.

I saw some birds too. There was a very nice Ruff right in front of the hide I visited and Whooper Swans in the foreground and skeins of Pinkfeet in the distance. As I left at c5pm, I stood in the car park listening to swans and geese flying in to roost.

There was a distant Marsh Harrier but, in a way, the bird that gave most pleasure was the one I heard call as I was walking through the collection.  ‘Hang on!’ I said to myself, ‘What was that? I think it was a Tree Sparrow’. And it was. I see these birds so rarely these days that it was a thrill to see some, and a thrill to recognise them by call.  I don’t get out much.

Peter Scott

Peter Scott



First day of winter


Nice sky – frosty under foot

I’m regarding today as the first day of winter because there was a decent frost. You couldn’t call it a hard frost, more a soft frost, but a proper frost all the same.

When I parked at Stanwick Lakes a little after 0730 it was cold and frosty.  It felt cold as I took off my warm shoes and put on my cold wellington boots, and  I wished it were a little warmer as I entered records into Birdtrack on my phone (and that fewer key strokes were needed), but as I got walking I warmed up. And there was no wind so it was actually a very nice morning.

A few hundred Lapwings got up and I looked for Golden Plover, with no success, but also wondered if a raptor or mammalian predator had put them up. They just had that slightly panic-struck air about them. A party of Long-tailed Tits flew across the path and then all went silent as one emitted the long purring alarm call. I wondered whether that was for me, but it seemed a bit over the top, and looked up and saw a Peregrine flying over.  A good start to the day!

But, assuming the Long-tailed tit alarm call was for the Peregrine, how often do Peregrines take LTTits? Never, or hardly ever?  And yet it ‘alarmed’. That’s quite interesting. How good are small birds at raptor identification? Was this Peregrine mistaken for a Sparrowhawk or perhaps a Hobby? Or do Peregrines sometimes tear through the air to pluck a LTTit from a flock? I guess if delay increases the chance that your family of friends might be eaten then you may not spend to much time worrying over the finer points of raptor identification.  Of course, if my identification is wrong, and it wasn’t a Peregrine at all (it was a Peregrine) then the mystery shallows rather than deepens.

There was a lot more water flowing down the river than I expected. It must have rained more here over the weekend than where I was.

On a small pool that rarely produces any very interesting birds (though all birds are interesting) the mist settled over the water and a single male Gadwall sat sideways to me on the still surface, seemingly wrapped in mist. What a smart duck is the Gadwall.

A fit woman jogger was catching me up on the path as I added Shoveler, Teal and Wigeon to the bird list. And then a very fit young man, who was definitely a runner, not a jogger, overtook her and gave me a cheery ‘It’s winter now’ as he ran past – he didn’t sound at all breathless. The frost was crunching below my wellington boots as I took each step.

No Cetti’s Warblers shouted out their songs from the usual places – maybe it was too cold for them.

An elderly walker of an elderly dog exchanged reamrks on the coldness, for we are English and therefore must talk about the weather. He said ‘I don’t mind it like this. Much better than rain’ and I nodded in agreement and added ‘Well, it is late November and we haven’t had any cold weather yet’.

A Water Rail squeeling from some reeds indicated that it was, indeed, winter but a Chiffchaff calling a bit further on was a less seasonal species to add to the ever-growing Birdtrack list, although Chiffchaffs are now regular here in winter.

Do they look cold to you?

Do they look cold to you?

There were some unfamiliar cows in a familiar field – they looked cold but I have no idea whether they were or not. The walk had warmed me up and I was enjoying the birds, the promise of sun, the cold air on my face and the sound of the traffic reminding me that this was Monday morning.

Further along the old railway line there were hundreds of Fieldfares feeding on berries.  A few Redwings, the occasional Song Thrush, plenty of Blackbirds, but hundreds of Fieldfares. I saw lots of grey rumps flying away from me.

At the far end of my walk, on the Black Bridge, I stopped a while. the sun was out and the frost was melting fast and dropping from the metal railing on which I leant. The cold and some of the wetness found their way through my waterproof and onto my arms but the sun was just noticeably warm on my cheek.

There were some fish coming to the surface in the water below me. I wondered whether they were feeling warm or cold?

I was hearing the chack-chack! of Fieldfares and watching fish rise to the surface from the Black Bridge

I was hearing the chack-chack! of Fieldfares and watching fish rise to the surface from the Black Bridge

I took stock of my bird list; 50 species so far.  Not bad. I guessed I would add a further five on the walk back.  I already had four gulls but Common was a possibility; I had four thrushes too, but Mistle was a long-shot; Goldeneye was already in the bag (with the easier but sometimes missable Pochard) but Goosander might be another long shot. I had Peregrine, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel but a Buzzard and/or Red Kite were distinct possibilities.  We’ll see – that’s what a walk like this is about. Seeing and looking and enjoying whatever nature throws at you.

Fifty-one was a Little Egret sitting in a tree (sulking because of the cold?). Fifty-two was a Red Kite. Fifty-three was a Skylark flying over and calling.  Fifty-four was a Common Gull, or actually several of them. Fifty-five, hooray!, was a Goldcrest with another party of LTTits and then fifty-six was a singing Cetti’s Warbler who must have warmed up now it was after 10 o’clock.

If it hadn’t been a Monday, usually, and today, a fasting day for me on the 5:2 diet, then a cup of coffee and a bacon roll would have been very welcome. Instead I changed from my, now warm, wellington boots into my, now cold, shoes and headed home.  The frost had just about gone from the morning of the first day of winter.

Stanwick Lakes visitor centre at the end of my walk (c1015). If I had taken a photo at the beginning too (c0745) the grass and roof would both have been frosted. Home of an excellent bacon sandwich - but not for me today.

Stanwick Lakes visitor centre at the end of my walk (c1015). If I had taken a photo at the beginning too (c0745) the grass and roof would both have been frosted.
Home of an excellent bacon sandwich – but not for me today.