Ten reasons to take notice of the Pope’s encyclical on climate change

Isn’t ‘encyclical’ a nice word?

presidencia.gov.ar [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

presidencia.gov.ar [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Pope has published his thoughts on climate change and they are well worth reading in full. But here is a good summary (taken from Time magazine).

Climate change is real and it’s getting worse

Human beings are a major contributor to climate change

Climate change disproportionately affects the poor

We can and must make things better

Individuals can help but politicians must lead the charge.

Now, I’ve been saying all those things for years but I have a feeling that the Pope saying them will have a rather bigger impact – thank God!

Here are ten reasons why the world will and should listen to the Pope on climate change:

  1. He doesn’t need to seek re-election – he can tell it as he sees it.
  2. He doesn’t have to deliver share-holder value – he can tell it as he sees it.
  3. He is a scientist by training – not that scientists all agree or are infallible.
  4. Popes are thought by some to be infallible
  5. He sounds like he means what he is saying.
  6. There are 1.2bn Catholics in the world – about one in six of the total population.
  7. The countries with the most Catholics are Brazil, Mexico, Philippines, USA and Italy – not bad places to start addressing rainforest loss and consumption.
  8. Jeb Bush doesn’t like it.
  9. Pope Francis is right…
  10. …no, really, he’s right!




Robert Gillmor MBE

I had missed this news until I saw it on Twitter just now – thanks to @StephenMoss_TV.

Great news! There is nothing else that needs to be said.


New Chair of EAC

The author of this blog with the sexiest man in Wales (2005) - Huw Irranca-Davies MP (then a Defra minister).

The author of this blog with the 48th sexiest man in Wales (2005) – Huw Irranca-Davies MP (then a Defra minister).

Huw Irranca-Davies, former Defra Minister and former shadow minister, was today elected as chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (following the stepping down at the last general election of the excellent Joan Walley).

Huw, once voted 48th sexiest man in Wales (nowhere near as sexy as the Hen Harrier of course) follows a class act in Joan Walley.

I have a photograph here in my ‘office’ of me handing the then minister, Mr Irranca-Davies, a petition of 210,567 signatures asking for the cessation of killing of birds of prey.

I hope the EAC continues its sharp poking of issues such as neonicotinoids, raptor persecution, cklimate change adaptation, marine protected areas etc etc.  At a time when NGOs are less outspoken, statutory agencies are neutered, muzzled and chained, and environmental quangos have been axed, the pressure exerted on matters by a committee of bright MPs who are prepared to shine a light into murky areas is all the more valuable.

Commiserations to Barry Gardiner who came second in the election and would have made an excellent chair too.



A place called Invercauld

Thurs 18 June  Copy

Henry parked in a layby somewhere between the River Dee and the River Don – I believe that this may be part of the Invercauld Estate. This area seemed to have very few birds and the usual large rectangular patches were burned into the hills. It wasn’t very pretty and Henry looks a bit unimpressed by it all, doesn’t he?

Management of land for driven grouse shooting is a highly intensive business – it seems to me to be ‘grouse first, everything else last’.  This certainly wasn’t the wader hot-spot of the Durham moors that is so impressive and which is the inconvenient truth for those who wish, like me, to ban driven grouse shooting (see Inglorious for the way I resolved this in my own mind). As we travelled this road, we did see the occasional wader but we didn’t need to get the binoculars out very often.

Does a Scandinavian drive over the watershed between the Dee and the Don, look across miles and miles of burned heather, and say ‘Why don’t we start this back home?’?  No, they don’t!  They might just ask ‘Why do you do it here?’.





African vultures plummet in numbers – new study shows


Photo: Andre Botha – Vultures at Sable Dam Capture Site. Lappet-faced, White-backed and Cape Vultures squabble over a carcass at Sable Dam, Kruger National Park, South Africa. The study suggests that these three species are declining at a rate of 80%–92% over three generations (about 45–55 years).

In a paper published today in the scientific journal Conservation Letters, scientists say African vultures are likely to qualify as ‘Critically Endangered’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s global threat criteria.

The study indicates that Africa’s vultures are declining at rates of between 70% and 97% over three generations; a time interval used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) when assessing a species’ threat status.  Since six of the eight species are largely or wholly confined to Africa, and are projected to decline by at least 80% over three generations, the study suggests that they are likely to qualify as ‘Critically Endangered’ under the IUCN’s global threat criteria.

The study estimated rates of decline (over three generations) for the following eight vulture species: Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus (-70%), Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus (-92%), White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus (-90%), Rüppell’s  Vulture Gyps rueppellii (-97%), Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres (-92%), Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus (-83%), Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotos (-80%), White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis (-96%).

Dr Darcy Ogada of The Peregrine Fund and lead author of the study, said:

Large declines of Africa’s vultures should ring alarm bells due to their immense ecological importance.  Vultures are a vital component of a healthy environment, especially in Africa, where ‘free’ ecosystem services such as disposal of carcasses and other waste products remain the norm.  If we don’t take urgent steps to save these birds, and in particular to curtail wildlife poisoning, we should expect long-term consequences for the environment, as well as for humans in Africa.What makes our results so concerning is that national parks and game reserves appear to offer these birds very little effective protection. Because vultures are so mobile and can easily travel hundreds or thousands of kilometres, decline rates were worryingly high even within protected areas.’.


Continent-wide declines in vulture species have already been reported in four Asian vulture species. However the study’s authors highlight two important distinctions between the Asian vulture crisis and that in Africa. First, to date, the rates of decline evident in Africa have been substantially lower than in Asia, affording African governments a window of opportunity in which to head off the environmental consequences of a collapse in this functionally important group.

Second, while Asian vultures have declined largely as a result of a single factor (ingestion of the anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac), African vultures face multiple threats. They include incidental and deliberate poisoning, the illegal trade in vulture body parts for traditional medicine, killing for bushmeat, mortality caused by power lines and wind turbines, and a reduction in habitat and the availability of food from wild game populations.

Photo: Andrea Botha. 66 vultures were poisoned in one  incident at Derby farm, Limpopo,  South Africa, 7 May 2015.

Photo: Andrea Botha. 66 vultures were poisoned in one
incident at Derby farm, Limpopo,
South Africa, 7 May 2015.

The study suggests that the greatest quantifiable threat to Africa’s vultures is poisoning, which accounted for 61% of all reported deaths. African vultures are often the unintended victims of poisoning incidents, in which carcasses are baited with highly toxic agricultural pesticides to kill livestock predators. However the study also shows that the recent rapid increase in elephant and rhino poaching throughout Africa has led to a surge in the number of vulture deaths recorded, as carcasses have been poisoned specifically to eliminate vultures, whose overhead circling might otherwise reveal the poachers’ illicit activities.


The paper’s authors are:

Darcy Ogada1,, Phil Shaw2, Rene L. Beyers3, Ralph Buij4, Campbell Murn5, Jean Marc Thiollay6, Colin M. Beale7, Ricardo M. Holdo8, Derek Pomeroy9, Neil Baker10, Sonja C. Krüger11, Andre Botha12, Munir Z. Virani13, Ara Monadjem14 and Anthony R. E. Sinclair15 and their affiliations are:

1. The Peregrine Fund, 5668 West Flying Hawk Lane, Boise, Idaho, 83709, USA and, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya

2. School of Biology, University of St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9TH, UK and, Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Kabale, Uganda

3. Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

4. Department of Animal Ecology, Alterra Wageningen University and Research Centre, Wageningen, Netherlands

5. Hawk Conservancy Trust, Andover, Hampshire, SP11 8DY, UK and, Centre for Wildlife Assessment and Conservation, School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, Berkshire, UK

6. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France

7. Department of Biology, University of York, Wentworth Way, York, UK

8. Division of Biological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA

9. Department of Biological Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

10. Tanzania Bird Atlas, Iringa, Tanzania

11. Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, Cascades, South Africa

12. Endangered Wildlife Trust, Modderfontein, South Africa

13. The Peregrine Fund, 5668 West Flying Hawk Lane, Boise, Idaho, 83709, USA, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya

14. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Swaziland, Kwaluseni, Swaziland

15. Beaty Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada


Photo: Ralph Buij. Rüppell's Vulture descending:  studies in West and East Africa  suggest that populations of Rüppell's  Vulture are declining at a rate of  about 97% over three generations  (or 56 years).

Photo: Ralph Buij. Rüppell’s Vulture descending:
studies in West and East Africa
suggest that populations of Rüppell’s
Vulture are declining at a rate of
about 97% over three generations
(or 56 years).



BBS second visits

I completed the second visits to my two BBS squares the weekend before last. Each passed without huge incident.

On my first square it was a rather low species total over the two visits, but last year was the highest ever so not much of a trend there. I was glad that there were still a couple of Yellow Wagtails and Skylark numbers were decent. This year no Reed Bunting and no Linnet though.  This year produced the highest ever counts of Chaffinch, Blackbird and Woodpigeon – hooray!  Nothing very special but my data are just another grain of sand, in a brick, in a big wall – and that thought gives me a lot of pleasure.

My second square, completed the next morning, did produce a record species total, but again, it wasn’t because the birding was great, just that I saw a few of just about everything I could expect. And again, it felt good to be out at 6am, and finished by 8am, and it felt good to be contributing a small amount to the large pile of knowledge on bird population levels. I wonder whether David Cameron and Liz Truss are fretting or sweating over the results.

The birds are different in the two squares – the second has a portion of a village in it and is full of House Sparrows, Starlings and lots of other small birds, the first is arable land and is a bit empty. Maybe David Lindo was right all along.

Another year of BBS – another pleasant four morning counting birds. I’m already looking forward to seeing the results of last year, and then taking part again next year. If you aren’t involved at the moment, why not give it a try?


The military career of Jacob the goose.

coldstreamgooseSince it is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, where the Coldstream Guards fought with gallantry that day at Hougoumont Farm, it seems fitting to recall the military career of Jacob the goose, also of the Coldstream Guards.

In 1839 the Coldstream Guards were sent to Quebec in our colony in Canada. There, a sentry saw a white goose chased by a fox and wanting to save the goose, but not wanting to alert the garrison by firing a shot, the sentry bayonetted the fox. The goose was very grateful and from that time forward, spent much time with whichever soldier was on duty at that sentry post, marching with the sentries to keep them company.

Some time later, in the winter, the goose, called Jacob by the soldiers (it’s too fanciful to think that this was because these events may have occurred on the Heights of Abraham and Jacob was Abraham’s grandson), was responsible for saving the life of the very sentry who had earlier saved his own.

The sentry post was attacked by a group of men, two of whom stealthily approached the sentry with knives at the ready, their footsteps silenced by the snow. Jacob flew at the men and disturbed them enough that the sentry shot one and bayonetted the other. Jacob and the sentry kept the rest of the intruders at bay until they were arrested by reinforcements.

When word of Jacob’s role in this affray became known the officers of the regiment bought him a gold collar which he wore for the rest of his life, including when he travelled back to London with the guards. Jacob took up sentry duties outside the Portman Street Barracks until run over by a van whilst on duty.

Even the Duke of Wellington himself expressed his admiration and appreciation of Jacob’s devotion to duty.


I came across this story thanks to striking up a conversation with a lovely RSPB volunteer, Roberta (Bobby) Mitchell, yesterday morning in the RSPB library at The Lodge. This account is a summarised version of one which appeared under the name of Roland Blackburn in the RSPB’s Bird Notes and News at some time in the 1940s.







Glen Tanar – Henry is impressed

Weds 17 June  Copy

Glen Tanar – great place. And a man cycles past without giving Henry a second glance.

I don’t think there have been any Hen Harriers at Glen Tanar for a while but when I visited in 2011, I was impressed by what was happening there. I talked to Colin McLean who was then the estate manager (and I wrote about it in The Field – of all places). Glen Tanar was one of very few grouse moors which had nesting Hen Harriers- only one pair but that is something to brag about.

At Glen Tanar the Hen Harriers were fed (venison actually) to divert them from killing too many grouse chicks as Glen Tanar had a single day of driven grouse shooting each year and a few days of walked up shooting too. But Colin was hoping to make money from photographers and naturalists by selling time in a hide near a harrier’s nest if opportunities arose. It seemed a potential way forward for some estates, at least.

But Glen Tanar is a forward thinking estate. It has to make money but it has the land and the outlook to diversify. It isn’t set on making all its money from selling as many big grouse days as possible – it hasn’t got itself trapped in that poor business model. Look at the Glen Tanar website and it looks like a fun place to visit and to spend your money whether it be getting married there or a different team building exercise. The estate offers holiday cottages, wildlife safaris and fishing as well as shooting. It makes its money from tourists, fieldsports, forestry and no doubt many other activities. It is not a farm for the over production of Red Grouse to be shot for money. Lessons to be learned?

Glen Tanar is certainly the sort of place that would shrug off a ban on driven grouse shooting as a minor inconvenience rather than an economic disaster because it is already living in the twenty-first century rather than having to be dragged out of the nineteenth.







Thirteen years old

I wrote a Guest Blog for my young friend Findlay Wilde – have a look at it.

pic16This is me at the age of thirteen holding a trophy that I and a companion had won in the Under -14 (but Over-12) age category in a schools competition run by WWT at Slimbridge. I was handed that trophy by the great Sir Peter Scott himself.

I know, I haven’t changed a bit, have I? Or have I – a more up to date photo of me with the same trophy is on Findlay’s blog site.

Also on Findlay’s blog are similar ‘when I was thirteen’ blogs by Lucy McRobert and David McGrath – they are very interesting.

And, by chance, that same WWT school competition is mentioned by Robert Gillmor in his interview in Behind the Binoculars – out on 20 July but ready to order now (where there is also an interview with WWT’s Debbie Pain).



imagesDear Marc Bolland

Just a recap really in case you are thinking of selling red grouse meat in your shops this year. Some things that have happened since your excellent decision not to see red grouse meat in your shops last year:

  • I started shopping at M&S again
  • governments, including the EU (and including the UK) decided in autumn last year to phase out lead ammunition – to the best of my knowledge there are no grouse shot in the UK with non-toxic ammunition. Grouse meat can be expected to contain high levels of lead.
  • the Lead Ammunition Group has submitted its report which is widely expected to recommend a move to non-toxic ammunition.  Would M&S want to be seen to start selling grouse meat which could be expected to contain high lead levels under these circumstances?
  • the first Hen Harrier Day was held with rallies at four sites across the UK, involving hundreds of people, to protest against the illegal killing of Hen Harriers by grouse shooting interests in the UK – more such rallies are planned for this year.
  • Selfridges also decided not to sell grouse meat in their food hall
  • 22,400 people signed an e-petition on the government website calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting, making it one of the top 0.5% most-signed e-petitions on that site ever
  • a study from Leeds University showed that intensive grouse moor management leads to increased flood risk (and therefore higher house insurance costs), water pollution (and therefore increased water bills) and increased greenhouse gas emissions. therefore the evidence for lack of sustainability for grouse production has grown since you made your very sensible decision.
  • the RSPB has called for licensing of driven grouse shooting
  • the UK government is still struggling to deal with a complaint to the EU over the protection of blanket bog habitat from damage from over-burning by grouse shooting estates
  • five male Hen Harriers have disappeared from active nests in England this breeding season – foul play is suspected because this type of bird doesn’t just disappear in this way – not all five of them anyway!

All in all, your decision not to sell grouse meat looks a good one as you would be facing increased criticism on all these grounds had you gone ahead. If you were contemplating reversing your decision it would look bizarre, wouldn’t it? The worries about the sustainability of driven grouse shooting have increased since last year, not decreased.

I wonder what you are planning to do?