Yesterday was a busy day in a busy week. A consequence of giving a talk to the Hampshire Ornithological Society on 29 March is that, if you are me, over 300 people sing Happy Birthday! to you – which was highly embarrassing and very sweet of them.
I had stayed with friends and I took my slightly fuzzy head (up late talking, with a glass in hand), and the rest of me, off to north Hampshire, in bright sunshine, to meet a landowner who is doing wonderful work for nature on his land. Chiffchaffs were singing and Brimstones were along the hedges as I arrived. I spent a couple of hours in his company, talking about politics, where we agreed to differ, and about wildlife, where we were very much on the same wavelength. Two large plots had been prepared for nesting Lapwings and Stone Curlews and I was hoping to see the latter. But as we looked for the Stone Curlews we saw Red Kites and Buzzards, talked about legal predator control, touched on lead ammunition, saw Hares, talked of butterfly reintroductions, moaned about ‘modern’ farming and mentioned a few mutual acquaintances. And throughout there were Lapwings tumbling and ‘peewitting’ in numbers that I can’t remember seeing (or hearing) for years except on nature reserves. More of the countryside used to be like this.
A pair of Stone Curlews did put in an appearance which was wonderful. They were a bit elusive but we saw them a couple of times and heard their Curlew-like call. Later in the day I listened to Charlotte Bruce-White talk about the successful work of the RSPB with landowners greatly to the numbers of this declining bird – a success story. And founded on a mixture of excellent RSPB science, enthusiastic landowners, RSPB investment for many, many years and funding from you and me through grants that encourage the right practices.
We also heard at the HOS Open Day in Winchester, from Keith Betton, about the return of Peregrines to nest in this part of the world. Another success story.
And we must remember and celebrate those successes but at the same time realise that they are islands set in a sea of decline. I was surprised to hear that, as far as we know, Tree Sparrows no longer nest in Hampshire. How amazing and how sad!
Chris Packham is the President of the HOS and I always enjoy hearing him talk about nature. He was excellent again – not only when he said nice things about me and Fighting for Birds, but when he talked about heading off to Malta with a film crew, about being in Ghana recently, about how dolphins have names, about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly and much else – oh, he mentioned badgers, too.
I don’t know Chris that well but he inspires me each time I do see him. And I don’t agree with him 100% about everything, but the overlap of what we care about is so large that small differences in the chosen means to achieving our aims really don’t matter.
My talk went pretty well – it got laughs in the right places and stimulated lots of excellent questions. I hope that the audience will now be set on a course of writing to their MPs about nature. Funnily enough, when I returned home I had a letter from my MP – more of that next week.
The world is a fascinatingly connected place. In the HOS audience there were birders whom I’ve met before over the years, people who introduced themselves as readers of this blog whom I had never previously met, former RSPB colleagues whom I might have expected to be in that audience and another former colleague who I would never have guessed would be present.
Those 300+ of us in a lecture theatre in Winchester University yesterday afternoon are connected with the rest of the world in so many ways; through our friendships, through our workplaces, through our spending power, through our voting and through social media. I wonder, if we had stayed together for a week and hatched a plan, how much we could do for wildlife over the next year through making our voices heard?