Map of Hen Harrier last locations

HH map jpeg

The RSPB Skydancer project released this map yesterday showing the last known locations of the missing Hen Harriers, Sky and Hope.

A quick look at Google maps, entering ‘Forest of Bowland’ and looking at the northern area, north of Wolfhole Crag, will get you to the right area. Switch from ‘map’ to ‘satellite image’ and you’ll see the characteristic burning pattern of heather between Wolfhole Crag and the River Roeburn.

Then go to MAGIC and find the Bowland Fells SSSI and you’ll see that these two birds were last recorded in or near that SSSI.  The records from NE show that quite a lot of this SSSI is in unfavourable condition – much of it not recovering (which is something of a rarity these days) and that the reason it is considered to be in unfavourable condition and declining is given as being due to the decline in the Lesser Black-backed Gull colony where NE found evidence (in 2012) of widespread culling and disturbance.

Much of the area in the bottom half of the map above is a Special Protection Area for birds, designated under the EU Birds Directive – these birds may not have been specially protected enough.

If you have any information about these birds then please contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0845 466 3636



Guest blog – What Martha Means to Me by Emma Websdale


Emma Websdale is a Conservation Biologist and Writer. Working as the Communications Support Officer for The Wildlife Trusts, she is particularly motivated in engaging younger audiences, helping them make sure that nature doesn’t drop off their agenda.


Passenger Pigeon by John James Audubon

Passenger Pigeon by John James Audubon

I sit on a train that’s heading to London, September’s issue of BBC Wildlife in my hands. I feel remorse and frustration. I stare at page 75 – John James Audubon’s illustration decorates the page, a beautiful hand-drawn picture of two Passenger Pigeons. They are warming to the eye – the male’s chest the colour of autumn, a wash of red and orange. The female is perched above him; leaning down and taking food from his mouth, giving a subtle hint of the bird’s affection. This species was gregariously sociable – a bird that nested in colonies of hundreds of thousands of pairs that the sheer weight of their winter roosts would make large branches abandon their trees. This was a species that travelled the skies together by the million, taking many hours to pass through an area.

I stare into their red eyes. I feel deep discontent. I will never get to see this bird alive, nor will anyone else. For just over 100 years now, this bird has been extinct – completely wiped from the planet. I read Mark Avery’s words, “The passenger pigeon was the most abundant bird the world has ever seen, only decades before extinction. So how on earth did we wipe it out?” And how on earth did we? I read the story… sadly; it is always the familiar one.

This was a bird whose survival was against many odds. Its habitat greatly reduced and replaced with resources to feed our appetites of firewood and agriculture. Competitors including wild (and feral) pigs and the arrival of the House Sparrow were also contributing factors. However, what really pushed this species to its extinction was the culling of their colonies. Culls that would result in areas of forest either set alight or felled in attempt to flush out flocks. These birds were culled in a magnitude rich enough to fill up hundreds of barrels each year for transportation which ended up becoming an item on a restaurant menu.

Mark’s story reminded me of how the last remaining wild Passenger Pigeon went out. Shot down in Ohio in 1900 by a 14-year old boy. This was the same year that the first hamburger was sold. Following 14 years later, Martha – the very last remaining known Passenger Pigeon died in her cage at Cincinnati Zoo at lunchtime. I cannot help but wonder how many people (ironically) were consuming a hamburger during Martha’s last breath – a big contribution to the removal of her habitat to make space for raising cattle.

Personally, the most devastating part to this story isn’t the Passenger Pigeon’s extinction. You see – humans can be messy, greedy and busy, but despite these negative tendencies, humans can also learn to restore a loss into something much better to create a gain. But we didn’t. Only 4 years after Martha’s passing, Incas – the last brightly painted Carolina Parakeet in the world, also breathed his last breath in the exact same cage as Martha. Now that is something unforgivable. Did we really make the same mistake twice? Two incredible species both lost in the same way? Yes, the frightening answer is yes.

A  panda in the snow?

A panda in the snow?

Frustratingly, it is this mistake in humans – to ignore ecological losses by focusing on economic gains that remains a stronghold within our attitude. This week, a crucial report released from the WWF and ZSL entitled ‘Living Planet Report 2014’ announced that the number of wild animals on Earth has declined by half in just the last 40 years. The reasons – the same as the ones behind the Passenger Pigeon’s extinction. Humans living unsustainably while polluting and degrading habitats. For one of the first times I can recall these frightening statistics on wildlife losses broke out into a main news channel – at 18.30 on channel 5, which welcomed Chris Packham’s viewpoints.

So what is the next species to leave us? Might it be the Spoon-billed Sandpiper or perhaps the Black Rhino?

Now this is what we are up against – very recently, I encouraged my brother to visit London’s Natural History Museum. As soon as we submerged ourselves into the ancient and intriguing world of nature, I instantly sought out the bird section in hope to see a Passenger Pigeon. There in front of me behind the glass, stood the solid, stiff body of a passenger. Among it was an Great Auk, Dodo and Carolina Parakeet. The eeriness of their stiffness reminded me that their once presence in the wild had been reduced to nothing more than a museum collection. No one seemed to even bother to stop and look at these lost birds. It angered me.  “Isn’t it frustrating to see that no one is bothered about these birds? They are gone. Forever.” I pointed towards the birds. To my horror, my brother simply turned around and replied with “So? It is only a bird. Not like a lion or tiger.” And that was from my own bloodline, my older brother – someone who I thought would know better. This is miserably such a common occurrence – people who are so disconnected from nature that they can’t even comprehend what such a beautiful loss could mean for both its ecosystem and even us humans.

I think back to Charles, Robert and many other young boys who eagerly attend the Wildlife Watch group I volunteer at, and feel proud. The excitement and thrill that explodes on their faces as they stumble across a newt or catch a pill millipede. Perhaps, just perhaps, if we continue engaging this exciting youth conservation movement with real and unforgotten natural experiences it can make some kind of dent. So that when they turn 14, unlike the boy in Ohio, their gun equipped hands are replaced with bug pots, lens caps and binoculars. And even better, perhaps with wildlife decline statistics finally making mainstream news, these children’s parents – who most likely don’t care about a bird going extinct… just might give it a second thought.

Martha was a warning. Incas was a consequence of not listening to her warning. With only 50% of our wildlife left, now really is the time to be listening.


This is what it is like to be on the front foot.


Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock

The debate has changed dramatically over the last few months – let’s say since 28 May when this e-petition was launched to ban driven grouse shooting.

In that time:

  • Morris_driveM&S have been persuaded to change their mind about selling Red Grouse on their shelves until they can assure the world of the sustainability of their supply chain.
  • Selfridges have said they will not sell Red Grouse in their Food Hall.
  • The Ethical Consumer magazine has published a hard-hitting report attacking the sustainability of grouse shooting.
  • Animal Aid has published a report on the waste of public money that goes to grouse moors
  • The RSPB has said that nett impact of grouse shooting on wildlife is ‘almost certainly negative‘ and hardened its stance by suggesting that grouse moors should be licensed
  • LUSH customers have signed 20,000 postcards asking the Queen to help the Hen Harrier
  • Hundreds of people turned out on Hen Harrier Day across the country to protest against the illegal persecution of protected birds of prey by grouse shooting interests
  • A Leeds University report has shown that heather burning for driven grouse shooting adds to flood risk, reduces water quality (and puts up water bills), damages river wildlife and increases greenhouse gas emissions
  • An analysis of the economic claims behind shooting has shown that the claims for economic value of grouse shooting have been exaggerated
  • And, a few days ago, the number of people who have signed this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting passed 18,000.

We should now look to politicians to respond to the public mood and tell us what they plan to do about driven grouse shooting. Any political party (actually, not all, I’m not posting anything from the BNP here) who wishes to write a Guest Blog on grouse shooting is welcome to get in touch.







More Crex than ever – well, for 45 years.


Photo; Ziegentom ( via wikimedia commons

The Corncrake is not the most charismatic bird in the world –  a Moorhen-like bird that lives in long grass, has a rasping ‘song’ (crex! crex!) which it mostly sings at night and looks like it finds getting airborne difficult, but which flies to the other side of the Sahara every year (and back of course).  Actually, now I write that, it seems to have a certain something about it.

But this year it was crex-ing away in bigger numbers than usual – the biggest numbers since records began of detailed counts, 45 years ago. Of course, the Corncrake was a common bird right across the UK until modern farming, but this was early 2oth century farming, (that was modern enough), scrunched up so many of its eggs and black fluffy young that its population tumbled.

Photo: Sergey Yeliseev via wikimedia commons

Photo: Sergey Yeliseev via wikimedia commons

But now the crexing corncrake is a conservation success story. Thanks to research, management trials and the rolling out of well-tested conservation measures (the right mix of grants to farmers and nature reserves), the Corncrake numbers, despite falling in 2013, have bounced right back in 2014 to 1,289 singing males in Scotland.  It’s a record!  It’s almost certainly the most there have been in my lifetime.

Nearer to home, the reintroduction project on the Nene Washes about which I tend to write at least once a year  (eg 2009, 2010, 2014), has had a record year too. Woohoo! In the Cambridgeshire Fens there were 22 singing males compared with just 7 last year (the previous year had been a disaster with flooding of the Washes).  That’s the most ever and there is a record number of home-bred birds in that total (as compared with reared and released birds) which is a good sign for the future too.

These projects are long and difficult – they require great skill and knowledge to pull off – but when they look like they will work it’s a great reward.



Ansdell_Richard_The_GamekeeperYesterday evening’s blog did not overflow with complimentary remarks about gamekeepers – it could have done, but it didn’t.

An occupation which evokes such strong and negative responses has an image problem – and that is true however fair or unfair are the comments.

We don’t hear that much from gamekeepers in the debates over the future of driven grouse shooting. We don’t hear much from gamekeepers at all, in fact.

I could be very sympathetic to the view that the poor gamekeeper is at the mercy of his (for it usually is a he) uncaring, unsympathetic, harsh landowner master if there were much evidence to support it but there is not. We hear little from gamekeepers saying that they have a tough time. We hear nothing from gamekeepers whispering that they are under enormous pressure, some (not all) of them, to break the law and they would much rather not. We hear nothing from gamekeepers to suggest that they would appreciate the arrival of vicarious liability in England so that more of the burden fell on their bosses.  We hear very little.  Some of this is understandable, there must be a risk of sticking your head above the parapet, but some of it is not.

I have rarely seen any evidence that gamekeepers or their organisations have any view even a little bit different from the Moorland Association and the Countryside Alliance.  This seems to me to be strange as the interests of gamekeepers’ and their bosses’ cannot be exactly the same.

I would welcome a Guest Blog about the future of driven grouse shooting from the National Gamekeepers Organisation  from the point of view of gamekeepers.

But here are some quotes about recent events from gamekeepers:


NGO website:

Gamekeeper found guilty of poisoning birds of prey

Thursday 2nd Oct 2014

Allen Lambert, a 65 year old Norfolk gamekeeper, was found guilty at Norwich Magistrates’ Court on 1 October 2014 of two charges that relate to the killing of eleven birds of prey (a sparrowhawk and 10 buzzards) and possessing pesticides and other items capable of being used to prepare poisoned baits. Lambert had pleaded guilty to five other charges at an earlier hearing including pesticide offences and the possession of nine dead buzzards.

A spokesman for the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation said: “The NGO stands for gamekeeping within the law and we condemn these actions utterly. The selfish, stupid actions of one man – who was not and never has been a member of the NGO – must not be used to tarnish the good name of gamekeeping, which does so much for the countryside and its wildlife. The gamekeeping profession genuinely deplores those very, very few among their number who break the law. They are the pariahs of the modern keepering world, losing the right to call themselves gamekeepers in the eyes of their peers.”

Allen Lambert has never been a member of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.


NGO website:

Focus On Hen Harriers Can Start Species Recovery

Wednesday 6th Aug 2014

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, CLA, Countryside Alliance, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, and the Moorland Association all want to see more hen harriers nesting in England and are calling for Defra to publish a plan for their recovery across England.

Three events have been planned by bird enthusiasts in Derbyshire, Northumberland and Lancashire to raise awareness of the current low breeding success of the birds of prey in England.

Last year there were just two breeding attempts, both on or adjacent to moorland managed for red grouse, but no chicks fledged.

There have been three known successful nests this year fledging 11 chicks, again all on moorland managed for grouse shooting interests, but the organisations say that there need to be more.

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, speaking for the group of organisations said: “All of the organisations welcome the spotlight on harriers and condemn wildlife crime. We need to build on this year’s successful breeding to springboard a wider recovery. There is a Defra-led Joint Recovery Plan we wish to see published. If implemented it would see the growth of a sustainable population of hen harriers without jeopardising driven grouse shooting, along with the environmental, social and economic benefits it delivers.”

Three parts of the recovery plan tackle any wildlife crime against the birds and three parts deal with the sustainable growth of the harrier population. One key element, nest management, is taken from tested conservation techniques in France. This would see hen harrier chicks in nests 10km from another nest reared in an aviary and released six weeks later in suitable habitat. This will help ensure harriers nest without impacting on ground nesting birds on which they prey, especially red grouse.


SGA website:

In response to a new report by Leeds University stating that burning of grouse moors leads to environmental changes, the SGA has given the following response:

Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said: “It is important to monitor the affects of all management practice on land.
Those clamouring for curbs on grouse shooting, for example, should assess the carbon released through widespread afforestation and pine regeneration programmes on peat soil in the Scottish uplands, which have the same drying and degrading affect as described in the Leeds study, including the release of stored pollutants.
“Controlled heather burning, following the strict Muirburn Code, only takes place within very short, regulated, seasons. Following best practice, it only takes place when the fire will not burn into peat edges.
“Aside from providing benefits acknowledged by SNH and organisations such as RSPB when it comes to conservation for black grouse, for example, controlled muirburn helps alleviate more damaging environmental problems on peatland.
“Rotational strip burning acts as a fire-break against the spread of wildfires which scorch peat over large areas, releasing carbon into the atmosphere at a far more damaging rate than any controlled muirburn would. We saw this at Mar Lodge when a campfire caused the loss of 10 hectares of important blaeberry amongst Pinewoods.

“Regenerating heather, which has lost its nutritional value, through cyclical muirburn provides vital food and shelter for birds such as waders, some of which are now only stable on grouse moors, so it is important to see the study within context.”


Get the big cats purrrrrring please

Photo: USF&WS via wikimedia commons

Photo: USF&WS via wikimedia commons

The World Land Trust, of which I am a Council member, is raising money for big cat conservation – including Bengal Tiger, Puma and Jaguar (I’d just love to see a Jaguar!).

Not only will the WLT be purrrrring with pleasure and gratitude if you hand over some dosh but they will be doubly purrrring as your money will be matched by that promised by other donors in the Big Cat Big Match.

The WLT has a very good reputation as a no-nonsense conservation organisation that gets in, gets things done and leaves the world a better place, with local people better enabled to carry on the good work.

The WLT Big Cat Big Match kitty is the purrrfect place for your conservation donation…

…don’t lose that loving feline…

…don’t paws to think about it…

Check them out and then donate here.



Our friends the gamekeepers – what should we call them?

Ansdell_Richard_The_GamekeeperGamekeepers – don’t you just love ‘em?  They are a profession – did you know?

What would be the right collective noun for a group of gamekeepers?

This started as a discussion on Twitter last week – so here are some ideas to get your imaginative juices running:

  • a ‘slaughter’ of gamekeepers
  • a ‘dropped the ball’ of ‘keepers
  • a ‘denial’ of gamekeepers
  • a ‘profession of raptor haters’

You may be able to do much better…


Have done badly, still doing badly

Photo: NASA via wikimedia commons

Photo: NASA via wikimedia commons

According to last week’s Living Planet report from WWF, we have lost half of the living individual vertebrates on the planet in the last years 45 years. Quite a lot of people wanted to quibble about this, and it is an eminently quibble-able claim, but the essence of the arresting claim must be true.

You can quibble because the data on which the claim is based come from studies of c10,000 vertebrates and there would be questions over how representative are those studies of all such species.  We probably know more about the status of the Black Rhino than of the Brown Rat.

However, quibble ye as much as ye like, it will only influence the time period over which the claim is true. Maybe you have to go back another 10 years before, strictly speaking, it is true. Or maybe we would have to go back to 1900. Let’s imagine that you must go back to 1850 rather than 1970 before you would find that there were twice as many living vertebrates on the planet than there are now.  This still means that one species has got rid of around half the back-boned life on the planet in just a few generations.

How ashamed should we feel about that?  Deeply, I say.

What a good job that governments all agreed to halt this loss by 2010 – except that they failed! So what a good job that they then agreed to halt this loss by 2020 – except that another study published last week showed that they are still failing.  A paper published in Science by a very large number of conservation scientists from across the world had the following abstract:

‘In 2010 the international community, under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity, agreed on 20 biodiversity-related “Aichi Targets” to be achieved within a decade. We provide a comprehensive mid-term assessment of progress toward these global targets using 55 indicator data sets. We projected indicator trends to 2020 using an adaptive statistical framework that incorporated the specific properties of individual time series. On current trajectories, results suggest that despite accelerating policy and management responses to the biodiversity crisis, the impacts of these efforts are unlikely to be reflected in improved trends in the state of biodiversity by 2020. We highlight areas of societal endeavor requiring additional efforts to achieve the Aichi Targets, and provide a baseline against which to assess future progress.’

So, we have done badly and are still doing badly at letting other species inhabit this precious, special, life-filled, corner of the universe.  We are a pest.

But Liz Truss is most worried about apple imports.

Photo: Hans-Jörg Hellwig via wikimedia commons

Photo: Hans-Jörg Hellwig via wikimedia commons




Oscar Dewhurst – Red Deer


Oscar writes: Red Deer in golden mist: Just before I headed off to Durham to start university last week, I paid a couple of visits to Richmond Park. On one of the mornings there was a thick layer of mist covering the ground and by shooting into the rising sun it gave it a lovely golden colour.

Nikon D800, Nikon 200-400mm f4 VR




Sunday book review – Dusk Until Dawn by Martin Bradley





This book is illustrated by, and written by, Martin Bradley, as was the book on the Peregrine also reviewed here (in April).

Colin Shawyer’s foreword includes this hope: ‘Martin has, without doubt, written and produced an outstanding book which now needs to find its way to our children’s hearts, through their parents, grandparents and schools.‘ and that is a hope which I share.

This is a book for children but I just find it delightful – full of delights. First, the poem that winds through the book is well-written and informative but, for me , every piece of artwork was a delight. The clean lines, good composition, colours and changes from close-up to more familiar view were just enchanting.  And, for children of all ages, there is a vole hidden (often very well-hidden (I can attest!)) in each picture.

This could become a child’s treasured book which would turn them on to nature. Do you know a child who should hold this book in their hands? Do you have a grandchild to whom you could read this book as a bedtime treat?

Dusk Until Dawn by Martin Bradley is published by Ceratopia Books and is fantastic value at £4.99 + £1.60 P&P.  All books can be signed by the author and can be bought direct from him by contacting