Round up

Defra: are pretty hopeless really aren’t they?  I haven’t had a reply to my ex MP’s letter about Andrew Wood’s witness statement.  I’m probably on a database as a pleb – but that’s better than being a patrician.  (see previous blogs on Wuthering Moors).

Autumn: I saw a jay on my walk around Stanwick Lakes last weekend.  I don’t see them there very often – in fact, thanks to the wonders of Birdtrack I can tell you it is my 5th record in 293 visits over 6+ years.  Three of these have been September and October records and the other two were in February and April.

Fighting for Birds: was momentarily (!) Amazon’s 6th best-selling wildlife conservation book (after a book on rhinos (on the list twice), Douglas Adams’s and Mark Carwardine’s excellent Last Chance to See, EO Wilson’s Diversity of Life and Planet Earth- the photos).  If you’ve read Fighting for Birds, and enjoyed it, then please consider putting a review on Amazon – there are five already.

Autumn: the buddleia in my garden is late-flowering and so attracts any butterflies still around.  It’s nearly over now though.  Recent sightings – beautiful red admirals, a tortoiseshell (now so much rarer) and large white.

Fighting for Birds: feedback out of the blue ‘a fascinating book, well done and some good jokes along the way, now write one for kids and politicians and x factor watchers, that’s where you need to be‘ and some more from a friend ‘As my contribution to your pension fund I bought your book. It’s very good and I enjoyed reading it. It took less than one weekend, so I must have been quite interested.’.

Autumn: used to be a time for me to attend all three political party conferences (yes, there are other political parties too). This year the first half of the Conservative Party Conference has just finished in Brighton, the Labour Conference is getting going in Manchester and the second half of the Conservative Party Conference will be held in Birmingham.  Fashionable though it is to slag off all politicians and all of politics – I used to enjoy these events (after the first year or two finding one’s feet) and find most politicians to be well-meaning folk.

Badgers: the e-petition against a badger cull passed the magic 100,000 mark on Monday afternoon, and has now passed 135,000, but please keep signing.

Autumn: a chiffchaff was calling from the trees in Trinity Square Gardens by the Tower of London on Wednesday lunchtime.

Hooray for Henry!:  I’m really pleased that Henry Edmunds has won the Nature of Farming Award this year.  Thank you to all the readers of this blog who followed my advice and voted for this very wildlife-friendly farmer.

Autumn: the house martin nest, down the road, which I pass on my way to the postbox, fledged some time in the last 10 days.  Sometimes they keep going into October.

Songs: these songs about birds by Ronnie Haar are different.  Some of you will enjoy them a lot.

Autumn: there were about six apples on the apple tree in the garden this year and the blackberries are very red and rather poor in the hedgerows.  And in any case, the Devil started spitting (or worse) on blackberries yesterday – as legend has it.  Little blackberry and apple pie this year.  I look with some envy across several back gardens to a pear tree laden with fruit.

Dead eagles: Why not email the Scottish Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP,  to express your outrage at the death of a young eagle in east Scotland (as suggested by Wendy Mattingley in a comment on this blog on Tuesday)? [email protected]  See Monday’s blog.

Autumn: with Britain’s 2nd-ever magnolia warbler on Fair Isle (from America) and a booted warbler in Norfolk (from central Asia) who knows which way the wind is blowing?

Catfield Fen:  I’m grateful to the Environment Agency for telling me that there were 84 responses and/or expressions of interest to the renewal of the abstraction licences near Catfield Fen.  That’s an awful lot!  And thank you to readers of this blog who are counted in that number. The EA is currently compiling a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to answer the common questions raised and will set up a dedicated page on their website where all the relevant documents can be held and viewed, including the FAQs, that we will be updated at key stages. Clearly, all those comments are making this particular case ‘an issue’ – quite right too.  See previous blogs (here, here and here).

Autumn: it’s a very good year for hawthorn berries where I live – is it for you?  I wonder how many will be left when I do my bit for the BTO winter thrush survey?  I noticed this year that the May blossomed very late and the flowers here all turned pink (from creamy white) late in the season – much more so than usual.

My mum: is in her 80s and she told me yesterday evening that she had read the first chapter of Fighting for Birds but has read all of Fifty Shades of Grey and laughed all the way through it. She’s now moved on to Fifty Shades Darker. I must reconsider my writing strategy.



36 Replies to “Round up”

  1. Great blog today, Mark! It really cheered me up on a grey and cold northern morning. I am currently re-thinking my bird watching activities and I was wondering whether to brave the rain that is forecast for later and go out and look for red kites in the nearby hills. After reading this, it is now a certainty.

  2. (not sure if that got through – re posting)

    Re Badgers, TB &c do you think TB is a major problem to British wildlife and what if anything do you think we can/should do about it?

    I was reading about a tb hotspot in wild deer here in and around the Baronsdown deer sanctuary with 76 recorded cases (which was by 2008) there are presumably more now – this does seem t suggest that the disease is exasperated by over crowding – they have I believe had up to 300 ‘wild’ red deer on 200 acres or so. One view on wildlife management is that it is natural for species to experience a cycle of ‘boom and bust’ whereby numbers grow till they exceed the carrying capacity of the environment and then plummet due to disease and starvation. Doesn’t the situation with TB indicate that such a policy can sometimes be flawed?

    I refer you to an article by Douglas Batchelor ex chief exec of LACS called ‘countryside mismanagement’

    Douglas attacks management of the deer population because he believes it leads to more healthier animals:

    ” If populations are marginally reduced by culling, deer condition improves and more survive. The hunters and killers are actually increasing the population by their actions, albeit marginally. ”

    Funnily enough that’s why I support it.

    He then goes on to say:

    “If the real objective was to minimise the deer population, they would stand aside and let the population resume its normal cyclical pattern of boom in numbers followed by starvation and bust.”

    He may actually be right. If we did allow the national deer herd to continue to boom maybe we would eventually minimise the der population. However surely w should take a step back here and ask ourselves what our objective should be? Should the objective be to ‘minimise’ wild animal populations?

    I would have thought that the objective should be neither to minimise or maximise the population of any species but to try and produce as bio diverse and disease free a situation as we can within the limits set by the inevitable rampant human development necessitated by the fact we have 60 million people living on a small group of islands.

    We can’t just stand back from nature in this situation. If we are to stand up for nature we have to actively manage it in some way the debate needs to be about how not if we manage our natural environment.

    1. Wise words! I don’t think the badger debate is at all straightforward. 100,000 or 1,000,000 signatures don’t make the science right. If a badger cull reduced the bTB burden would Brian May and others support it? Is the science important or is it just not acceptable to cull badgers under any circumstances. OR should be take a leaf from Mrs Avery’s book and read through the Fifty Shades series……..sometimes I read such nonsense I think she may be right! Still reading
      ‘Fighting for Birds’ still loving it!

      1. Mark Gibbens exactly – what difference does the science actually make to some of the people campaigning on the badger cull? Precious little I suspect – for many of them it is a moral issue and nothing to do with the relative suffering caused by culling versus not culling. And how ironic that the position of LACS – one of these organisations is that wildlife should be controlled by disease and starvation – a policy which they appear to have put into practice on their own land. Whilst acknowledging that culling can promote more healthy wildlife.

        My understanding is that they had over a hundred out of 300 or so of their deer die in one year from a combination of lungworm, TB and starvation. At the time they were apparently winter feeding the deer on their land in order to boost numbers. If that is true and if these deaths are attributable to their wildlife management then this is massively more suffering than will be caused by any badger culling farmer.

        The belief that disease should limit wild animal populations and that human intervention is in principle immoral is an ideological position which has the potential to cause huge suffering.

        If any farmer had such large numbers of livestock perish in such circumstances they would quite rightly face prosecution.

        LACS of course are not liable for any suffering they cause to wildlife on their property because even though it might be said that to all intents and purposes they are intensively farming wildlife the deer on their land being classed as ‘wild’ – they have no responsibility for their welfare.

        And then the deepest irony is that LACS OPPOSE proposals by Lord Donoghue to remove all exemptions from the Wild Mammals protection Act – a move which would render wilfully causing undue suffering to any wild mammal by any means a criminal offense.

  3. A dreary day but a good blog to make us think. I finished reading FFB some time ago but will no doubt dip into it again as particular topics become relevant, a great and thought provoking book Mark. I’ve recommended it to several friends but being good Yorkshire folk they want to borrow my copy, so far I’ve resisted.
    I’ve seen a number of jays recently, its that time of the year when they are more obviously out and about seeking acorns, a pleasure to see them, they strangley always remind me of Umea airport in northern Sweden where as you sit and wait for your plane to sadly wing you back to the hurly burly of modern life, jays and occasional nutcrackers can be seen flying over the nearby trees.
    No intention of reading fifty shades books, lifes too short! I cannot comment on bTB as a FERA employee, but Giles makes some interesting points about deer management. In natural situations the weak and poor are weeded out by predators and disease, habitats are not over grazed, deer are a little scarcer but healthier. Look at the way Yellowstone habitats have improved since the return of the wolf! Not that I’m advocating that for over crowded England.
    Off to Fair Isle at the end of the week, I and a colleague have wanted to go since Adam was a lad. Autumn’s such a great dynamic season, shame about the weather. I’d take you up Mark on the Bowland issue, but whoever wrote on the subject would be on a hiding to nothing, its all unnecessarily contentious and often not at all what it seems, it is however a fantastic place.

    1. Paul – thanks for your thoughts and the nice things you say about Fighting for Birds.

      I’ve never been to Fair Isle (envy) and I’ve never sen a nutcracker (more envy).

    2. Ah but we still have marauding packs of canines in the UK so all is not lost 🙂

      Wolves would definitely also limit badger and fox numbers in my opinion. If you read Mr Batchelor’s blog he talks about foxes moving in when badgers are removed. Exactly the same thing goes for wolves (and bears) vs badgers and foxes. Bio diversity is crucial and the effect removing species from either the top or the bottom of the food chain especially damaging. Have a great time in Fair Isle – I am jealous too!

      1. Giles – yes there will be more foxes if badgers are wiped out in some areas. I was also interested in your figures about bTB in deer.

        1. hi mark – well it seems like a crazily long link but here goes ..

          If that fails google for “The health of the wild red deer of – Exmoor National Park” it’s an ADAS report and take a look at the map on page 16 – of 87 confirmed cases in the national park only 11 were outside the Baronsdown cluster. That was up to 2008 from what I understand the situation is ongoing …

          Another interesting site is here I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this but I understand LACS do not deny it. The concrete bunkers full of rotting deer carcasses seem especially shocking. I can see that if you have such large numbers you are gong to get a lot of dead ones but it seems to me that the situation got out of control.

          But then again that is what they seem to advocate as a means of countryside management. Allowing a cycle of boom ending in large numbers of animals dying from disease and starvation. This being somehow considered ‘ethical’.

      2. If Fair Isle is even a tiny bit as enjoyable as my many visits to Stora Fjaderagg Bird Obs in the Swedish Baltic (hence the waits at Umea airport) it will be fantastic and hence your envy will be justified but then you’ve been to lots of places I haven’t Mark. As to nutcrackers they are even better in the hand! Scandinavia is fantastic for wildlife, the scenery is great, the people very friendly and they speak English.
        For a flavour I recommend “Vasterbotten, scenes from a northern landscape” by J Wiklund and C Olsson (both friends) but you’d need to look at 2nd hand books.I will report back on Fair Isle.

  4. Think we need a alternative to cull instead of all negative stuff.See that Brian May is Vice President of RSPCA so why does’t he get RSPCA to organise a fund raising to buy doses of vaccine as alternative to cull.Such as
    RSPB supporting the petition members give £1 each or more of course =£1 million
    RSPCA =£1 million
    Ask farmers instead of funding cull £1 million
    Government as they should gain if it works having to give much less compensation£1 million
    Those who have signed the petition £10 each =over £1 million
    This amount of money would buy serious numbers of vaccine and hopefully some major firms would contribute if only for advertising.
    Maybe all a bit hopeful but at the moment no sign of this disease now or in the future not spreading at a ever increasing rate.I am convinced as far as a cull goes it would have to be so severe it is impossible it would ever be thought of or allowed.
    All the brains in the country and no one can come up with a solution to the disease ,just opposition,probably the easiest thing in the world to do.

    1. Dennis – you make some good points. The thing that worries me in all this (actually, not by any means the only thing!) is that it is easier to oppose a cull than to suggest a very plausible alternative. That doesn’t mean a cull will work – but at some stage we are probably going to have to find out (again)!

      This sounds like being wise after the event, but before the Krebs study the RSPB (and others) said that the time and money would be better spent on developing a vaccine. And that could be a vaccine for cows or badgers (or both). The vaccination solution always seems to be ‘about five years away’ and yet we have been in this mess for quite a few five-year periods.

      The opposition to vaccines from the farming community is based, as I understand it, on the ‘need to do something now’ which is a bit thin considering how long things have dragged on, but also because of the purely economic consideration of the difficulty of exporting milk products from vaccinated cattle. It does, it seems, come down partly to money in the end.

      And I would happily send my £10 if the cull were cancelled.

      1. Are you completely against culling any wildlife Mark or just some species? If you do discriminate between species I’d be curious on what basis. I’m against culling buzzards btw but I think Tim Bonner made a good point about the rspb culling crows but being completely against culling buzzards.

        I wonder about the wisdom of administering pharmaceuticals to wildlife in this manner. Might we not be treating the symptoms rather than the cause. If overcrowding is causing TB to become endemic then vaccinating is only going to make it worse and in the long run something else is going to come along.

        Maybe however overcrowding has nothing to do with it? Do we have ‘the science’ on why TB seems to have become so endemic amongst british wildlife? and if we don’t how can we possibly have ‘the science’ to know what if anything to do about it.

        1. Giles – I’m not remotely against culling any wildlife. Read Chapter 5 of Fighting for Birds!

          Culling crows is legal, culling buzzards is illegal – what is Tim Bonner’s good point?

          Yes, I think we ought to shoot people with flu, particularly if they give it to me! What is natural about crowded cattle, being fed artifically for much of the year, and with genes that have been selected for milk production instead of disease resistance?

          You should read the science that has been done – because some of what you ask about is partly understood.

          1. “Culling crows is legal, culling buzzards is illegal – what is Tim Bonner’s good point?”

            Well smoking cannabis is illegal whereas drinking alcohol is legal. I’m not sure that a sensible answer to someone that thinks dope should be legalised is just to say – well alcohol is legal but pot isn’t so what is your point?

            It seems to me that if you support a situation where one is legal and the other isn’t then you need a little more justification for that state of affairs than just that that is what the law is.

            I’d agree that culling buzzards should be illegal btw.

            There’s nothing particularly natural about the way cattle are farmed intensively but it seems that is necessary if we are all to consume as many dairy products as we wish to. A more plant based diet would no doubt help.

            However cattle are regularly drugged to help them cope with overcrowding. Maybe you are right maybe we do need to start administering pharmaceuticals to wildlife too. However to me it’s a big step.

            Fighting for birds is next on my reading list I promise – currently reading ‘The Panopticon’ as recommended by Irvine welsh

          2. Giles – if the CA were lobbying for buzzard killing to be legal then they would perhaps be more honest? One difference is that raptors are K-selected (late age of first breeding, high survival, low reproductive rate) compared with crows and so we know that a bit of killing (such as poisoning) of adults can have very severe impacts on population levels. That’s why gamekeepers have lots more crows to kill than hen harriers these days – although, of course, it is only a minority of keepers who kill hen harriers (but that is enough to make a huge difference).

            So there is nothing unnatural about cattle vaccination – but opposed in practice by farmers as it has economic consequences.

          3. ps very anti shooting people with flu – however when foot and mouth was in full flow down here in devon I did wonder what would happen if it was some extremely virulent human disease – a mutated ebola perhaps?

          4. Phew! (re flu)

            Not all farmers I am sure (re vaccines) I know quite a few were very much for an FMD vaccine. Is vaccination a magic bullet for the problem in wildlife? I’m not sure. Maybe if we vaccinated all our cattle no one would worry about the consequences of TB for wildlife.

  5. Defra gave up replying during the forestry row 18 months ago – and for reasons obvious to anyone reading this blog have been swamped ever since as they get into one contentious mess after another. Its not all; one way though, Mark – if Mrs Spelman had read the letter I sent her on 4th January 2011 and taken my advice (you’ll find the cash value of the forest go down roughly as fast as the political cost goes up !) she might still be in the job ! Now i suspect the whole Department and much of NE will be paralysed by the Badger cull. And I suspect one bit of information we will never see is the police advice to the Minister. Having been in the middle, alongside the police, of the hunting issue in the past what is going on scares me rigid – some of the violence around hunting was bad enough, but rifles ? pitch dark nights ? Even without any intent the chances of the Badger cull ending with someone dead can’t be incosiderable – and I’d bet the police have already pointed it out to the Government.

    1. Roderick – I am sure you are right. I heard a rumour that the badger cull is happening now because the police/Home Office said they couldn’t cope with it at the same time as the Olympics. Might not be true, but might not be false either.

  6. Sorry Mark seems I am unable to give a review on Amazon as daughter did the buying for birthday and appears you had to personally buy from Amazon to be allowed to give a review.Think your sales very good and well deserved.
    Ref Badgers there just have to be plenty of answers but the will from any Government over the past 20 years has not been there they would rather send our servicemen to get killed or injured to win battles that a thousand years of history in that area proves you will not do any good.
    Other county’s faced with this problem would even say we will vaccinate our cattle and use our own products and if you do not allow our cattle exports and products we will only allow in enough to fill our shortfall.

    1. Dennis – many thanks for trying to post a review on Amazon. I think it is more complicated than who bought the book but I don’t really understand it!

      I’m quite attracted by your proposed solution to the vaccination/export problem.

    2. I strongly suspect that we are precluded from such trade arrangements as a member of the EU – as for Afghanistan I can’t help thinking that some of the more extreme ‘antis’ get a massive kick out of what they do. It does sound rather fun. I’ve followed Beagles before on foot and rather enjoyed it. Hunt sabbing is pretty much the same activity from what I can see – hunting but with different ethics.

      1. Giles – yes but if the NFU had lobbied for change in EU regulations rather than for killing badgers we would have a solution rather than being at the beginning of a never-ending, unsuccessful , inefficient wildlife slaughter.

        1. I could be wrong but I think you will find that free trade is at the heart if the EU. I doubt we could renegotiate such a basic part of our relationship with without enormous political ramifications and a probable exit.

          1. Giles – free trade is part of the WTO agreement (an evil and unfair agreement that penalises poor people and the environment). However, anything is negotiable with will – the UK hasn’t tried to change Eu minds because farmers have preferred badger-killing. Who else has been promoting badger killing?

  7. Export was used as a key excuse for not vaccinating in the 2001 Foot and Mouth Epidemic. From what I remember, the export trade was worth £200m pa and not vaccinating didn’t help – the French very sensibly boycotted British beef till it had all settled down – and in the meantime the rural economy lost something rather more than 10 times as much money as the trade the whole thing was meant to be protecting.

    1. Wasn’t the argument is that with a disease like FMD you can be 100% sure its eradicated fairly quickly after it really is if you don’t vaccinate. However if you do vaccinate then it’s much harder to know if you’ve really got rid of it because animals can be carriers with no symptoms? It was a horrible experience – we had just bought seven Devons and were holed up for months terrified we would get it and cause all the farms around us to be culled. Then in the end a lot of them were and we weren’t

  8. One of the things that really worries me about the badger cull is that not enough work has been done to ascertain that badgers are the only carriers of TB. I note in the replies above that several people have pointed out that TB is in wild deer but I came across something some years ago that suggested voles could be carriers too without suffering from the disease. If this is true, then not only will the badger cull be pointless, it would potentially make the problem worse by removing one of the voles potential predators (albeit not as important as kestrels, owls and foxes). Indeed, it is possible that hedgehogs could be carriers too and it seems to me that it would be better to be sure about these points.

  9. Giles,afraid you are completely wrong about cattle regularly drugged to allow overcrowding,cattle have always for centuries been close to each other in winter for their benefit,all through the 1900s and before cattle were tied up in pairs about 7ft between stone or wooden divisions all winter.If outside in many parts of the country in winter they would be in a terrible mess.
    Drugs only used when absolutely necessary for illness usually as milk usually has to be thrown away during treatment and milk testing is just about the most efficient thing in country.
    Mark,of course cattle are quite crowded in winter but have been for centuries and lots of us proof the crowding is not the problem as we have never had any trouble from it,really a cattle benefit keeping them out of mud,of course farmers gain as well.
    Where for me this crowding of cattle and modern housing attacks all fall down is the way humans have crowded together and moved to houses from caves.
    The old saying one rule for one and one rule for t’other.

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