Same old song

SOS 2

A reader of this blog was shocked, and somewhat horrified, to find this leaflet flutter out of his Farmers Guardian last week. He cancelled his subscription.

 

This would be an excellent leaflet to give to a mixed group of students – biology students and media studies students – and ask them to analyse it.

They would quickly, perhaps, notice that the Magpie population increase of 100% is over an unspecified time period, and that the Magpie national population seems to have been more or less level for the last 30 years.

They might need a bit of help to realise that one of the most recent studies in this area was funded by Songbird Survival and found precious little evidence of any impact at all of predators on songbird populations.

It’s a rather special-looking Yellow Wagtail though isn’t it? And that Lesser Redpoll has a shifty look about it…

No doubt, regular reader and commenter to this blog, and boss of Songbird Survival, Keith Cowieson, will explain this to us all.

 

 

 

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140 Replies to “Same old song”

  1. Wow: that wagtail (I hesitate to call it yellow) has come from a long way east! Wouldn't be shocked if that form has had a breeding population of 0 in Britain for as long as records stretch back. And what's a Songthrush? Sounds like a @GusTheFox character to me. When boldly quoting 'facts', you'd think accuracy and attention to detail would be paramount, wouldn't you?

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    1. Personally speaking, I've always regarded all Motacilla Flava as Yellow Wagtail, irrespective of sub-species. Happy to be corrected though.

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      1. And a linnet is a redpoll right, Keith? Or doesn't accuracy or credibility matter to Songbird Survival? What else are you happy to get wrong?

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        1. And lets not forget they have previous in this area: http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/markavery/archive/2011/02/07/songbird-survival-has-rod-liddle-issues.aspx

          Funny how the 'You Forgot Your Brain' campaign also had issues with a basic grasp on the ID of common songbird species.

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  2. Not sure wether to laugh or cry at this. What a load of rubbish this is. If they can't even tell a Lesser Redoll from a Linnet then they have serious problems, and don't get me started on the nonsense about predators. Is this a bunch of amateurs or just as con. Answers in a postcard please.

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  3. Corn bunting, song thrush, tree sparrow bullfinch and linnet would do better if the hedgerows weren't flailed to within an inch of their lives every year. No food no shelter from the elements and no protection from oportunist predators.
    World

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  4. The problem is, there are too many sensible birders who believe some of this nonsense and refuse to budge from instinctive views...

    Cats - evidence suggests that 1 in 5 cats is a serious killer of wildlife and it may be as low as 1 in 10 out of a total population of between 7 million and 9 million. This means that serious as the situation seems to be, the cat population as a predator is less than other mammalian predators and well under the numbers of avian predators. There is a caveat to this, as the Mammal Society survey suggested (there was no had and fast data as such) cats were a much more serious threat to small mammals than was first thought. Unfortunately, the survey extrapolated information (and it really did not have this information) onto predation of birds and many people still believe this, whereas there are grounds for believing that birds can cope with this 'extra' predation. All the same, I have been in debates with birders on Facebook where people have pointed to the Mammal Society survey as though it was the last word on the subject.

    Corvids - Corvid control is not really effective unless carried out as a palliative - something even the RSPB et al know. It is a risky strategy anyway because Corvids only have a 10% component of their diet made up of small birds at a time when they are cropping an abundant supply of eggs, nestlings and fledglings...most of which, will be wasted in the leaf litter as Stephen Moss put it. This means that Corvid control only works to relieve pressure and the medium to longer term issues are not well known given that Corvids will also be controlling pest species that are undesirable to farming interests. In some cases, getting rid of a magpie nest in the garden will probably encourage non-breeding birds and other visiting magpies that have no interest in leaving a surplus.

    Mark is right, nothing has changed really and I have given up being part of Facebook bird watching groups because I am having exactly the same conversations I did at the RSPB's Wildlife Enquiries...not to mention Internet forums like Bird Forum. In all that time, I have never seen anyone from the Mammal Society (they are not alone BTW) ever modify the statement they put out at the time (widely circulated in BBC Magazine back by a Gary Larsen cartoon) despite it being flawed. I even had someone using the old Toxocara canis argument against cats just a few days ahead of a report saying that dog faeces was so bad now that a substantial proportion of the deer population is now infected with T. canis. I suppose we are our own worst enemies when it comes to conservation and I doubt anything will change. There will still be those who deny climate change when the glaciers start to roll over Scotland and the Amazonian rainforest becomes a desert.

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  5. My favourite comment is - "Serious doubts about quality and findings of much, previous predation research".

    I wonder why that is? Maybe this -

    "In the biggest ever analysis of songbirds and their predators, published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology, scientists look at the role of predators in the decline of species such as Bullfinch and Yellowhammer. Whilst a small number of associations may suggest significant negative effects between predator and prey species, for the majority of the songbird species examined there is no evidence that increases in common avian predators or Grey Squirrels are associated with large-scale population declines." - BTO, 2010.

    Or this -

    "These results suggest that in most cases bird populations are unlikely to be limited by corvid predation and that conservation measures may generally be better targeted at other limiting factors" - A review of the impacts of corvids on bird productivity and abundance, Madden et al, 2014.

    It would be good to hear from SS what research they are referring to?

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  6. I was always bemused by Songbird Survival's advocation of a corvid cull, given that corvids are also songbirds... (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passerine#Taxonomic_list_of_Passeriformes_families).

    They should really be called Birds We Arbitrarily Like Survival.

    For those individuals unconvinced of the charm of corvids I recommend the book Corvus (A life with birds) by Esther Woolfson. You'll never look at a magpie or rook in the same way again.

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  7. Well, what do you expect when there are Linnets involved ?

    I was shocked reading a very good article in Nature's Home (Birds to readers of this blog) to see slightly hidden behind all the excellent work in Africa the stark fact that Turtle Dove breeding attempts in the UK have fallen from up to 4 per annum to just one - a result paralleling the findings for Song Thrush, over which there was debate for years, including I seem to remember suspicion that it was slug pellets on brasciccas (especially the then growing area of Oilseed Rape) - but it wasn't, it was simple starvation - and its the same for Turtle Doves and that is because we've done such a good job stripping the last little bits of their food supply out of our farmed landscape. Sadly, it doesn't matter what we do in Africa or in Malta for Turtle Doves and Nightingales if our farmland is food free and our woods overgrown.

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    1. Absolutely, so much of the farmed landscape is like a nice house with a bare larder and sn empty fridge.

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  8. As a fundraising flyer should it not be at least a tad more factual?

    Who would be interested, the Charities Commission or the Advertising Standards Authority? Or both?

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  9. If 75% of statistics are made up, then what percentage of Songbird Survival statistics are? Looking at that piece of wastepaper (I hesitate to call it a flyer) I reckon at least 97%. At least they can identify a Magpie I suppose.

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    1. "hesitate to call it a flyer"

      In contrast the bowl of raw meat, kibble and a dollop of yoghurt I gave my dog for her breakfast today looked quite organised and appealing

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    2. They can identify the things they dislike, but struggle a lot to identify the song birds they claim to champion.

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    1. Lacking a complete assemblage of herbivores could arguably leave woods overgrown with undergrowth I'd imagine. Wild boar would uproot bracken and other under storey vegetation, breaking up the soil and perhaps creating patches for colonisation by woodland flowers like bluebells. A shortage of ancient/mature woodland with a full canopy capable of shading out thick undergrowth in high summer might also mean many woods are "overgrown" if only made up of younger tree stock choked with brambles etc? Might dense conifer plantations also be thought of as "overgrown" in that they have grown too much of a single species to the exclusion of any other plant life? Just thinking out loud...

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      1. Seems like fire prevention can also leave forests overgrown... http://news.nau.edu/overgrown-forests-fueling-catastrophic-wallow-fire-nau-expert-says/#.VPWlG0-PPcs

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      2. Oooh I don't like the expression 'overgrown'.
        Do brambles 'choke'? Admittedly you can have too much of a good thing in certain circumstances but they are a valuable source of food and cover (And fascinating in their own right - how many (sub)species????) for many mammals, birds and inverts. Young trees growing through bramble will eventually shade it out and in the meantime all those dead leaves will be adding to the woodland soil.
        And yes many of our woods really would benefit from boar being present

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  10. I have only just noticed the predator stat - they eat 200 million adult and fledgling birds every year - is that still 200 million out of 472 million young produced every year according to BTO stats for just 30-odd species (not counting pigeons BTW)? Where does SS think these birds disappear to? Do they think that it would be 200 millions extra birds per year that would be recruited to the breeding population or would they just fall off their perches along with the rest of each year's breeding? Even taking aside the fallacy of this stat in the first place, they have failed to produce any evidence that predator control would make any difference. I suppose one could bury ones head in the sand about predator - prey figures providing one was not prepared to bury their head in the leaf litter where all the sad little, frozen corpses will be buried.

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  11. !!!

    http://www.itv.com/news/2015-03-02/incredible-image-shows-weasel-flying-on-woodpeckers-back/

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    1. Filbert, It shows that predators are having such a bad time getting around they have to resort to Avian Airlines.

      I understand that those going on long haul journeys prefer Eagle Airlines as they can then take the family.

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  12. Perhaps NGOs should try replicating a factual version and flood magazines & poster boards pointing out the myth and non-science that this industry likes to thrive upon.

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    1. Care to give any examples Rob? This is a familiar tactic on Bird Forum over the years and is made up of denial and then disregarding the evidence when someone has gone to the trouble of digging up a reference. It is the type of tactic SS thrives on.

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  13. "No doubt, regular reader and commenter to this blog, and boss of Songbird Survival, Keith Cowieson, will explain this to us all"

    Presumably he must have approved this before it was sent out? If not then who did?

    I think Bimbling makes a very good point about the Charities Commission and the ASA.

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  14. What complete and utter nonsense these claims are. As mentioned there are a number of respected studies that show there is very little evidence that predation is a major cause of song bird decline. Garden species have generally declined less than farmland and woodland species and where do the majority of cats live? I hope people don't waste there money on bigotry hiding behind sham science.

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        1. All illustrations of how easy it is for people to make mistakes - typos, forgetting to change captions when photos are changed or vice versa - its called human error. I agree its pathetic to flag them up.

          Thanks for help in making the point.

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          1. Is it pathetic to expect a leaflet asking for money for a "charity" that claims to be "saving songbirds with science" to actually identify some of those birds correctly?

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          2. Yes but poor grammar or 'typos' made by accident when typing a comment onto a website (with big fingers on a small phone often) are hardly in the same league as 'typos' ('cough) and multiple incorrect photographs used in a colour PR leaflet which will be printed many times.
            Your invalid comparisons and excuses are no surprise Keith.
            No surprise at all.
            "Same old song".

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          3. How can you possibly pass off your mistakes as 'human error' when they indubitably reflect the shoddiness of your 'facts'?

            For the record, 'Thanks for helping make the point' would be better use of English.

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          4. I work in the communications industry, and (as I'm sure you are aware) there is a vast gulf between and individual making a typo in a hastily typed blog comment and an organisation publishing a document. Any serious organisation has a proofreader. And a fact-checker. And been through a number of rounds of amendments and corrections before print or publication.
            The biggest difference, of course, is if you want someone to take you seriously on a subject - say, the status of songbirds in the UK - then you really need to be credible. Credibility comes from accuracy IN THAT FIELD. Everyone can forgive a few spelling errors but identifying species wrongly is a big blunder if you are expecting people to accept your (ahem) evidence.
            But I suppose all you *really* need to identify accurately are the species you want to butcher.

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  15. I'm still at a loss to understand why these nutcases were allowed to sponsor a species in the latest BTO atlas.

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  16. As Ian Peters has said... the problem is that many people who like watching birds and purport to dislike SongBird Survival ACTUALLY believe this guff.
    And again (as Ian has said) these people trot out the same "facts" (generally based on unscientific huge extrapolations or invalid comparisons (like USA or Oz) a la Owen Paterson) every time to make their AND SongBird Survival's point.
    These people aren't the land-owning gentry... they're just blinkered birdwatchers.

    That all said, you'd possibly expect the PR crew (person?) at SongBird Survival (must get that right... I know Mr.Cowieson is quite precious about the exact title) would have put at least a half competent leaflet of pictures out.
    if I was the Director of SongBird Survival I'd be apalled by this leaflet. It gives "the other side" a nice pile of ammo to ridicule the self-proclaimed knowledge possessed by the SongBird Survival trustees on their website.

    As for at least identifying a magpie correctly... my son is 27 months old now and even he can identify a magpie and proudly amnounces it every time he sees one.
    I wonder how old the PR person is at SongBird Survival?
    Older than 27 months I'd assume.
    Bless.

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    1. Doug,

      IF I was you I'd start all my sentences with a capital letter - the spelling police are out in force. Well done with the title, much better attention to detail than mine.....

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      1. At least people on this blog are able to make constructive logical arguments. Something clearly lacking from your side.

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        1. Leave Doug alone, his poor grammar was probably was made by accident when typing a comment onto a website (with big fingers on a small phone).

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  17. Did you hear about the land owner who was arrested for lewd behaviour in a local beauty spot? Acting on a complaint from a local dog walker, the police caught him in the back of his Range Rover dressed head to toe in a rubber gimp suit and in flagrante delicto with a male escort.
    Apparently the Range Rover had a Songbird Survival sticker in the back window, but the police kept this quiet so as to save his family from any further embarrassment.

    I'm here all week...

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    1. Classy! I now understand why you feel the need to hide your identity behind a pseudonym......

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  18. Apus Apus - the inaccuracy of my statement surely deserves a free membership of songbird survival ! What I meant was that as the average age of our broadleaved woods increases there is less and less early succession habitat for birds like Nightingale. The excellent Plantlife 'Forestry Recommissioned' points out (page 11) that in 1947 49% of broadleaved woods were in the early, scrubby growth stages following wartime felling. By 2002, 97% was 'high forest'. Hope that clears it up - and, of course, in the early stages Nightingale like it as 'overgrown' as possible !

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  19. Two bits interest me and that is (1)It seems that conservationists always rant on about hedgerow loss whereas it looks as if the fact is that farmers have grown 50,000 more KM of hedgerow since 1990 unless the only facts I can find are incorrect.
    (2)why do conservationists come out with things like hedgerows flailed to within a inch of their lives,that is such a exaggeration as to be crazy.
    Fact is if a hedge is flailed by most operators once yearly the result is almost exactly the same as it would be trimmed by any other method ever used.Only when a hedge is flailed periodically are the results looking bad but of course even then in spring the hedge will recover really well.
    It is time conservationists realised flail hedge trimming is here until something better is thought up and that seems unlikely at the moment.
    Interestingly most of those who complain about farm hedge trimming in my experience trim their garden hedges several times a year whereas I have never heard of a farm hedge being trimmed more than once a year.

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    1. Dennis,

      Forget it, no-one here is listening, say after me "it's all the fault of farmers"

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    2. Dennis, unfortunately by flailing a hedge annually, or even in the late summer of the second year, as many are, all we do is ensure that next to no fruit or other food will be available for wildlife to exploit. See my comment about nice houses with empty larders and fridges - looks nice but has no resources.

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    3. I think it is only fair to take the dividing line Dennis has illustrated because it is well made...at least in general. I remember having a similar conversation with one of my fellow bird watchers some 30 years ago when the first hedges were flailed on our local patch. It was obvious that the objective was to reduce the height of a hedge that was in truth, a little out of control. I pointed out that the hawthorn would soon recover and would provide good cover again within five years despite the extent of this particular operation. To be fair, I was largely right but nevertheless there are still substantial gaps in the hedge even decades later and significantly, the flail method has not been repeated at this site. Personally, I think flailing is unsightly but it is impossible to escape the fact that it encourages growth in the longer term if carried out correctly. It is also far more preferable than removing a boundary hedge completely although when flailing is too severe it must contribute to failed breeding over a few years when the hedge has not recovered.

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    4. Dennis: yes, farmers who previously grubbed up often old, species rich hedgerows with tax payers money are now planting nice new species-poor hedgerows with tax payers money. Good on them; I don't personally blame the farmers for responding to historical agricultural policies which encouraged - or rather incentivised - hedgerow removal, but they certainly played a role. Regarding flailing, I've been photographing my local hedgerows from fixed points over the years and it's quite striking to see how some have become progressively thinner and narrower through time, with handy new gaps through which the combine can pass from field to field. With time, hedgerows become grassy strips, which are then plowed in. Hedgerow removal by stealth?

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  20. Has Beefy made a come back with some more comedy anecdotes?

    It’s so ridiculous that I thought it was a Reservoir Cats spoof document. You really would think that Keith and his cronies would have learned to identify common and widespread UK passerines by now, it almost gives the impression that they are not really that bothered about song birds per se and more focused on another agenda.

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  21. Thanks for bringing to my attention the shocking and outrageous typo and failure to amend a caption after a change of photo. Mea culpa. The graphic designer in question has been thrashed to within an inch of life, despite several copies of ‘Shades of Grey’ being secreted down the miscreant’s trousers. The perpetrator is now standing in the corner with a bucket on the head until further notice. Meanwhile as the individual with overall responsibility, I await my punishment with trepidation. I suppose there is always the old WW2 vintage Webley revolver in my desk, just behind the bottle of whisky, or what about the traditional hara-kiri sword brought back from the Far East by a distant relative? Maybe I should just tough it out as advocated by the last-Labour-Prime-Minister-but-one’s official spokesman? After all, Natalie Bennett seems to be getting away with it. And I thought being seen as ‘slick’ was a bad thing.

    Such are the perils of delegation and inattention to detail. That’ll learn me. Here was me believing that it was best to allow folk their head and let them make non-critical mistakes and learn from them - good for personal development and all that. However, clearly not the case for such a salivating audience as this, all lined up by the nearest tumbril.

    Still, interesting to look at the Magpie population over a 30 year period only. Using the most recent 30 year trend makes for an interesting excursion – let’s consider Song Thrush (better now Nick?) - http://tinyurl.com/ox5cqg3 ; Linnet – http://tinyurl.com/pzse2t2; Bullfinch - http://tinyurl.com/ogxfe3e even. And why not over a 20 year period say, for the Lesser Redpoll - http://tinyurl.com/lsnghzr . Hmm, all ‘more or less level’. Don’t think it will catch on somehow.

    For Apus - http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2041-210X.2010.00030.x/abstract

    For Ian - http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.12025/abstract

    Oh well, time to brave the baying mob of smock-attired, straw-hatted locals brandishing pitchforks and burning effigies and to squeeze through the phalanx of burly body guards and frenzied media types to the anonymous-looking ‘fast black’ that will whisk me away to my fate…………

    Finally, you may have noticed my once regular reading of, and commenting on, this blog has more or less ceased. The failure to show any contrition for inciting the shocking Gamekeeper ‘hate fest’ on October 6th & 7th last year and the censoring of my Comments is responsible for that.

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    1. Keith.
      As you brought up the subject of capital letters; named birds are common (rather than proper) nouns and therefore your "Magpie" really should be "magpie".
      Same goes for your "Song Thrush", "Bullfinch" etc etc...

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    2. Keith, according to the BTO birdtrends Magpie population has slightly fell over the past 30 years, with the majority of decline being over the the past 10. So how can you justify claiming a 100% increase on that leaflet?

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      1. Benjamin,

        While the magpie (thanks Doug) population may have SLIGHTLY FELL over the past 30 years, look at the long term trend.

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        1. Isn't 30 years long term? I must be younger than I thought.... Over 40 or 50 years, it still isn't a 100% increase.

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        2. By all means look at trends over the period of time that data are available: magpies have undoubtedly increased tremendously since the 1970s, sparrowhawks too and you are also correct, Keith, to point out that the decline of the Lesser Redpoll is largely hidden if we just look at the last twenty years. But so what? Never mind any mistakes in labeling photos, your leaflet is guilty of the error that we all have drummed into us as undergraduates that correlation should not be confused with causation. If we do that we could blame the decline of the yellow wagtail on the rise of the wood pigeon!
          If you are going to blame the decline of species as diverse as yellow wagtails, song thrushes, lesser redpolls and tree sparrows on the rise in numbers of predators such as magpies, sparrowhawks and cats then you will also need to explain why species such as great tits, robins, chaffinches and blackbirds - which seem to be at least as vulnerable to predation from these predators - have not declined in the same way but have increased over the same period (blackbird has gone down then up).

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          1. Jonathan,

            Work in progress on most of the above with more to come, funding permitting.

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    3. Thanks Keith.

      I am aware of this paper and it is precisely the kind of thing I have debating on Bird Forum and on FB groups. I am similarly aware of the study that came out of the USA recently but neither is applicable to birds*, which by way of their ecology can react to high predation rates (or by extension, short-term habitat loss aka poor annual breeding success providing recovery takes place quickly enough). There was also the overlay study of song thrush and magpie distribution released sometime in the 90s that seemed intriguing at first glance but even a further cursory glance proved that no real attempt had been made to explain either the correlation (or where it failed) to explain where the idea broke down. I am not going to be as sneering towards you as you have to me but it is proper investigation that leads to assessment of these studies and not extrapolating them onto inappropriate examples as I am sure you know with your own BTO study.

      * If you go back over the Mammal Society survey, it actually brilliantly highlighted some real concerns over small mammal declines. When the results of the survey were released in BBC Wildlife, this was exactly what was being said but it was distorted beyond belief as people clung to various comments made in the report and continue to do so almost thirty years later. Think about this for a moment Keith because I am not just a bird watcher but also a Zoology graduate - why do I spend so much time defending a position when I really want to talk about a serious concern that cats could and probably are depressing or even threatening small mammal populations?

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      1. Ian,

        I agree entirely that free-roaming domestic and feral cats are probably responsible for depressing and threatening small mammal populations as well. Perhaps reptiles and amphibians too?

        Puzzled that you think I was being sneering towards you - certainly not the intention - merely posted another paper that looks at the impact cats can have on song and other small birds, without comment, another part of the jigsaw.

        I'm sure Kevin Gaston (or Colin Bonnington & Karl Evans) would be very happy to discuss their findings with you. Professor Kevin Gaston is now the Director of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at University of Exeter Cornwall Campus, Penryn, and I found him a charming and very approachable sort of bloke. Drs Bonnington and Evans are both still at Sheffield.

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        1. "merely posted another paper that looks at the impact cats can have on song and other small birds, without comment, another part of the jigsaw. "

          'Can have!' or is that, 'Can have?' The reference you gave seems to be a paper mentioning cat predation on small mammals, which is precisely the postscript I put on my previous post. You are welcome to point me towards a definitive study on cats and birds if you wish but my point is that a few carelessly worded sentences from a survey report thirty years ago are still (STILL!) being quoted as evidence of in declines of birds. I could be utterly disrespectful towards the Mammal Society but the report was never meant to be presented as a scientific paper but in some ways they are their own worst enemies for letting this carelessness go on for so long. The papers that you refer to are even more direct as scientific studies and we should be talking about their conclusions instead of talking about any projected evidence for bird declines. BTW, I would be more than delighted to talk to any of the researchers if you are willing to sponsor me to do so???

          Incidentally, I am interested in the three bullet pointed items at the end of the leaflet. Someone else has already dealt with part of the Corvid question on this thread with regard to magpie populations but what kind of research are you conducting concerning Corvids and songbird decline. Tim Birkhead's monograph (Poyser) seems to cover this adequately already and in North America as well as here in Europe so I am not sure what there is to learn on this subject. As for increasing productivity in garden birds, has there been a mistake here? As I understand it both BTO and RSPB data suggest garden birds are doing rather well and there is even a train of thought (although yet to be proved) that the proliferation of blue tits and great tits is causing problems for marsh tits and willow tits because both are less likely to exploit opportunities in the garden. Indeed, I am not sure how any research on garden birds would be applicable say, corn buntings and even there is even a suggestion that house sparrow decline has bottomed out recently.* I would say that our gardens are perfectly healthy as they are, which I suppose begs the question why do they so well despite the presence of Corvids, sparrowhawks and cats?

          * The house sparrow population bottoming out was widely anticipated although there are a number of factors to this that require further comment. Firstly, the population is truly more than 70% of what it was 30 years ago and although true extinction did not happen, the UK population remains vulnerable to further decline. This is because (secondly) house sparrow colonies tend to be dispersed with only a little mixing from nearby colonies (unlike tree sparrows BTW, which have a much larger dispersal). The further these colonies are from each other when they are situated more than 1-2 miles apart, the more likely a given colony could die out if there is further environmental change. I know of colonies around my hometown that are so far apart that they do not mix, in some cases, I have seen colonies actually die out because of poor productivity.

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          1. Ian,

            No idea what paper you are looking at, the link I posted takes me to 'Fearing the feline: domestic cats reduce avian fecundity through trait-mediated indirect effects that increase nest predation by other species.'

            No need for sponsorship, just call them up or drop them an e-mail.

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          2. 'We conducted controlled model presentation experiments at active urban blackbird Turdus merula (Linnaeus 1758) nests to provide the first empirical evidence that quantifies the potential sublethal and indirect effects of predators (domestic cat and grey squirrel) on avian reproductive success.'

            Am I right in saying that a model was first applied to blackbirds and then was produced to apply against a number of tests? How would this work when applied to bird species with a totally different nesting strategy to blackbirds? It also seems to be stating a position where nest predation by grey squirrels would be compared against cat predation whether or not this included a nest destruction component. The paper also seems to be concerned with impacts on small mammals as part of the abstract and I am at a loss to understand why the two things would be linked. Finally, there seems to have been no attempt to cross check the model against actual figures given the blackbird is one of the top three breeding birds in the UK. Much as I am reluctant to suggest that fellow scientists have made a mistake, it seems to me that there must be a basic mistake in the model. I am sure you will happily point me to why I am so wrong about blackbird populations - the floor is yours!

            BTW, thanks for mobilising an afternoon's load of Dislikes against my posts, I feel that I have really achieved something today. 🙂

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          3. Ian,

            Like I said, I'm sure any or all of them will be very happy to discuss their findings with you. Just call them up or drop them a line - they won't bite! Here you go - http://www.exeter.ac.uk/esi/people/academicandhonorary/gaston/

            And don't let the likes/dislikes thing get to you - its just a mouse click when all's said and done.

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          4. Keith - you have avoided saying whether you accept the results of the BTO/GWCT/St Andrews study that found little evidence for any impact of any predators on songbird populations. Was that one of the studies about which there were doubts over its quality?

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          5. Actually on reflection Keith, I think I should acknowledge that you have been polite on a personal level other than the generalistic label applied to all of us further up the thread. Therefore and before you come back to me with the usual 'who are you to comment on a research project?' that was the usual tactic on Bird Forum, I would like if I may to go over a few objections to the paper but disregarding the small mammal predation element that I potentially agree with where domestic cats are concerned anyway:

            Personally, if I was designing research of this type I would have not chosen the blackbird mainly because of its entire biology. It is true that there has been less work on fecundity compared with the blue tit or the wren, both of which, are known to react to environmental or rather, climatic effects on breeding success. On a theoretical level, blackbirds would seem almost ideal to test given they could be targets for nest predation by both cats and grey squirrels. However, there is a danger that having two potential predators could mean that the effects of one over the other could blanket each other in some circumstances (and remember you have to test at least 500 nests/gardens or whatever index you are using and ideally over different external factors such as poor weather years). There is a species that can test part of the hypothesis and has some similarities to the blackbird and that is the robin. Robins still have a pre-fledged stage out of the nest before they can fly and in theory, this makes them equally vulnerable to cats whereas robin nesting behaviour is likely to make them less vulnerable to nest-raiding activities of squirrels because they tend to prefer deep (and spikey) cover.

            There is another problem though and even the robin is not an ideal candidate as a replacement in this respect. Both species are multi-brooded and both can start to breed very early in the year if the conditions are ideal. First broods are often produced before the summer migrants arrive because of the competition and the increased level of predation that starts to increase when a resource is there to be cropped. On the surface, this would be an ideal stage to test fecundity against nest predation because theoretically, it would be at a time when Corvids are less likely to be involved in nest-raiding, and indeed, Corvids seem to be genuinely uninterested in early nests because it is not profitable to search for them. At the very least, it should (in theory, I am going to use this a lot...sorry!) provide a control...but sadly, not! Early nests are an automatic strategy when the conditions are ideal and this does not occur every year. Needless to say, early nests are extremely vulnerable to late season weather such as snow or prolonged wet weather. Therefore, a lot of nests will fail halfway to completion...with or without any nest predation.

            The situation actually starts to diverge even more with multi-brooded birds such as blackbird because of other factors not least is the number of actual nesting attempts in a given year. Early broods are usually larger than later broods irrespective of how many broods are actually produced throughout the season. Generally, blackbirds will produce three broods within a typical season with the male continuing to feed pre-fledged young outside the nest whilst the female will begin incubating again within a few days. Because later broods are generally smaller, it would be necessary to factor into whether a earlier nest was destroyed before the young were able to leave because this can affect number of eggs produced in a repeat brood if the earlier nest was destroyed after just a few days of incubation. The longer a female incubates, the more condition she loses and therefore, is less capable of producing a similar number of eggs to the previous brood. At this stage, I am sure the researchers will have been aware of these theoretical controls to their data.

            Unfortunately, there is an even greater factor that can influence nest failures in blackbirds that should be well known given the research was done well over a half a century ago in suburban gardens of Oxford University. This is that blackbird territories are notoriously fluid and they do not stay fixed even when the breeding season is underway. It is not unusual for a territorial boundary to move during a fight, effectively displacing a nest outside the previous territory. The new tenants will then evict the sitting female and systematically destroy the nest, an act that is often wrongly attributed to nest-raiders rather than other blackbirds. The nest destruction cannot be definitively separated unless the event is specifically witnessed.

            Stepping away from the blackbird then, what alternatives do we have? Well, finches are strong candidates for squirrel predation and indeed, it has been widely observed but they are less of an ideal candidate for the average urban garden where cats are likely to be present. How about wrens? Unfortunately and as already mentioned, wrens have a multi-brooded strategy but it is well established that this is designed to cope with population crashes and fecundity increases immediately after a crash with a steady reduction in fecundity as the population recovers. It is strange fact that blue tits deal with the same problem on a single-brooded strategy but the research is too well known to make them an ideal candidate for testing a predation theory...especially one that will go on to provide a model for further examples.

            I am not going to labour the flaws in applying a dissimilar model to inappropriate situations because it seems to me that the starting point that produces the model is wrong in the first place. However, this appraisal above is or should be part of the peer-review process but it is not that unusual these days to manage to place a paper that may have been rejected elsewhere because someone has missed a crucial objection. I could suggest this is a fault of the system but it actually is not, when a paper is published, it becomes open to further appraisal, re-testing and may even form the basis of further research. Unfortunately in this age of Internet abstracts, a paper can remain in the ether long after its conclusions have been discredited. This was one of the reasons I gave up debating on Bird Forum because I often found myself chasing a paper trail through later research that discredited the original work or more generously, modified it. In this case, the work cited will almost certainly be replaced when further work is carried out should any suitable research funds be made available but sadly Keith, I doubt much of the work will remain unchanged.

            Incidentally, to reverse your earlier question I would be delighted if any of the researchers would come over and have a chat. I am sure Mark would be more than willing to give them a guest blogspot for that matter.

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  22. Okay Dennis her'is a puzzle for you. Why do most if not all lower canopy and some mid canopy trees, hedges shrubs reshoot when copiced (or as the conservationists claim flailed within an inch of their lives) and user canopy tress don't ?

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  23. So there are three wrong pictures Lesser Redpoll is a linnet, yellow wagtail is a black headed wagtail-- yes Keith it is the same species but this form a BB rarity in the UK you should have used something more relevant and I have suspicions the Thrush is a Mistle. Then we have the anti cat crap based on a huge extrapolation to cover the whole of the UK based on a sample size of 80 in one place. Over the last 35 years I've owned four cats and the number of birds they have caught has totalled less than 10 (and one of those was a woody). All the stuff about an increase in hedgerows may be true but they will be neither as species rich or structurally diverse as all those grubbed out in the 50s to 90s so much less goos for wildlife. Same for woodland and much of the scrub and understory is these days destroyed by alien deer.
    Yes we live in a managed landscape but by and large wildlife finds its own level--- the SS argument is the same old nonsense trotted out by the tweedy game industry (the dominion over argument). If there are too many predators and the evidence that they affect song birds is poor to nonexistent we ought to find out why before just whacking them with the shotgun or traps. Too much alien game bird carrion to keep them alive in the lean months might be a problem.
    Most of the arguments SS use are the same the game lobby use about raptors and corvids and is just as much crap here as there, then SS is funded by the same people so no surprise there then.

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  24. All the above notwithstanding does anyone have a copy of the leaflet to send to the Charities Commission and Advertising Standards Authority with a complaint?

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  25. Well here is what I think and then what I want to know.
    I think that not one conservationist understands farmland hedges and there maintenance.
    Do all these people who have taken what was farmland at one time and live in houses not understand that hey have uprooted hedges to gain these houses and have never over generations given substantial hedges back for bird life.Generations of farmers have of course even though being vilified provided all the hedges on farmland.
    How arrogant are these conservationists thinking they know more about farmland hedges than farmers who have cared for them for many generations.
    It is ridiculous to say about all of them being trimmed each year when it is likely that many are trimmed bi-annually so that birds are cared for with the berries and under schemes so as to get the grants,what is really funny is that this is when a hedge looks worse than if trimmed every year so it is a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't.
    Regular trimming has the advantage of providing a dense hedge for birds to hide in and nest in so there are advantages.

    Now for the second part,really simple.Let these smart a*** conservationists who know so much about farm hedges and hate flailing hedges say how they would maintain farm hedges because that will be very interesting.

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    1. You tell them Dennis! Better still, invite them along to show you how it should be done.....and film it!

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      1. There's more literature on sensitive management of hedges than you can shake a flailed twig at.

        In the 'old days' before big machinery farmers would have had to manage hedgerows rather differently to how they do now. Flailing back to the nth degree is a relatively recent phenomenon.

        I applaud all the hedgerows that have been planted and restored by farmers as a result of agri-environment schemes but overall the potential benefits of increased provision to wildlife are not being realised because of the way hedges and hedge bases are managed.

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    2. Dennis, I agree with the gist of what you are saying to some extents but the major problem comes when we have entrenched views on these subjects. John Stone has correctly identified that there are enough good management sources out there and I suppose this begs the question...why are there examples of getting it wrong? When I was based in Bedfordshire, it was significant that there were few hedgerows around Wrestlingworth (the area I regularly cycled through was actually in Cambridgeshire to be pedantic) where it is clear traditional hedges once existed. There were attempts to replant that were still developing when I left and I hope to one day go back and look how things are progressing.

      I am now back in the (grim, but only if I say so 😉 ) north again where field boundaries are more important for containing livestock. It is true that hedgerows have still been lost around the mosses and on the Blackpool Plain but largely there is a lot of hedgerow still remaining. The problem is that livestock boundaries are not as good as arable boundaries because there are less all-year feeding opportunities and this limits species. This means it is horses for courses when it comes to hedge management and with the amount of available brush habitat we have, an individual hedge is not much of a loss over a few years. However, as I illustrated in the example above on my local patch, there are clear examples where a more intensive approach to a hedge management programme is totally inappropriate even where the hedge constitutes just a livestock boundary. It perfectly illustrates the hazards of over-generalisation and that includes both sides of the argument.

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  26. Its a bit narrow minded, blaming the poor old crows.....why don't they try..............................................

    .................brood management.

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    1. It worked for cirl bunting in Cornwall. I have suggested that similar schemes could be attempted in Cornwall & NE Scotland for corn bunting. Worth a try where they are facing local or regional extinction perhaps?

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  27. Interesting, Paul - my immediate gut reaction to the Thrush was Mistle - but the resolution wasn't quite good enough to be sure.

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  28. Thanks for the link Hugh, although I did find it a bit puzzling. It mentions that there are too many trees per acre and that this is an unnatural forest structure, but how can this be so, when the trees have grown as part of a natural process?

    I wanted to read more about the forests so checked out –

    http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr198/psw_gtr198_a.pdf

    It seems that from the mid 1850’s it was domestic livestock grazing and extensive harvesting of ponderosa pine forests, which significantly altered both the composition and structure of the forest. When heavy livestock grazing ceased in the early 1900s, dense stands of ponderosa pine seedlings became established with the help of fire exclusion, climate changes, and other factors (not sure what these are?). Before this, forests were burnt both naturally and culturally by Native Americans, which must have opened up the land, but leaving the majority of overstorey trees.

    With this in mind, I would argue that the forest is recovering naturally after it had experienced the unnatural effects of heavy livestock grazing and logging. The forest structure is different to how it used to be, as trees regenerate, but I feel that it is not unnatural or overgrown.

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    1. Interesting take Apus. I do understand your disinclination to describe forests as overgrown and broadly take your points. Am just always reluctant to deal in absolutes (ecologically speaking anyway).

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  29. Thanks for your response, Roderick. Don’t worry it doesn’t warrant SS membership!

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  30. Thanks for the link, Keith. I haven’t had time to read the paper yet, but I will do.

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  31. Talking of unnatural numbers of things in the countryside, does 37 million pheasant released each year have anything to do with anything? Half of these aren't shot (where does that energy go?). I'm not anti-shooting and I realise that these help support woodland and cover crops, but so would half (quarter, eighth...) this number so feel it should be debated. Any thoughts anyone?

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  32. Apus Apus - what has been happening in the N American boreal forests is very interesting. It has had a lot of airing through US national park policy in Yellowstone but is effecting much wider areas. I'd also recommend the book 'Fire Season' published a couple of years ago. As well as a fascinating account of the lonely life of a fire tower observer, I learnt a lot particularly about the great Aldo Leopold and the development of thinking in the USFS. Essentially, it has taken land managers a long time to recognise that catastrophic events are very much part of the boreal forest ecosystem - not helped by the fact that they result in the loss of harvestable timber. Fire, beetle attacks (and the two linked) and wind are major impacts which help keep down the combustible load of the forest - when artificially halted they build up and, as you'll have guessed, lead to much bigger, fiercer events. Going cold turkey on a generation of misguided fire prevention is proving very hard work, especially as people have moved in to live in vulnerable areas. Canada has recently suffered a quite spectacular bark beetle attack, exacerbated by huge areas where natural processes have been arrested. For some Pines bark beetle attack followed by fire is key to their ecology - the cones only open and shed seed when heated by fire.

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  33. Take that as read then that no conservationist who complains about flail trimming has a alternative he dare spout about.
    Fact is contrary to what is said about dense hedgerow bottoms they have never repeat been better than after several years of flail trimming.
    Oh yes plenty advice in literature about trimming hedges but usually from intellectuals who have never managed more than a suburban garden hedge.
    Today we had a trip out and guess in the countryside we saw about 200 miles of hedgerow all flail trimmed and not one piece flailed to that ridiculous statement to within a inch of its life,all 200 miles of it in perfect condition.
    Can never understand how intelligent people who criticise birders for being intelligent people but believing what S S say then seem unable to comprehend that flail hedge trimming makes a hedge far far better in the bottom than any other management,just look around at all the well trimmed flail hedges and the evidence is in front of you.
    Mostly in my experience this job is carried out by experienced contractors who do hundreds of miles each machine each year and those who are critical of them do them a disservice and how people with absolutely no experience but by reading a couple of pages on hedgerow management think they no better than these practical contractors beggars belief.
    One factor conservationists never consider is that a hedge can be killed just as easily by several ways and saw,axe bulldozer and plenty more so of course flail hedge trimmer is just another one but used correctly it is a great tool and only if a hedge is left untrimmed for more than 2 years will the result look bad but so it would with any other method and it will recover just as well from flail trimming as any other method of trimming.

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    1. I am not sure why you did not post this beneath my reply Dennis but you will get no definitive argument from me. I am well area that a gone-wild understory is ideal because it provides the dense cover provided by brambles, which are equally easy to trim at a field boundary. Nevertheless, to repeat, it is horses for courses and no one strategy will work for a dissimilar situation. I know many of my local farmers on a personal basis on my local patch and I often talk with them on a range of subjects including hedge management. In fact, the biggest problem facing my local patch is that the immediate landowners are failing to tackle invasive species because they allowing Himalayan balsam, ragwort and Japanese knotweed to intrude. The bramble patches are currently superb for warblers but doubtless the brambles will become smothered making them less suitable for breeding in the future, particularly if the bramble cover then recedes. Nevertheless, it is inescapable that bad flailing strategies will leave gaps that take years to recover and I doubt you would disagree with that idea Dennis. I take your point that these operations are mostly carried out by properly trained contractors but I am sure you know as well as I do that this aint necessarily so (to quote an old music-hall song 😉 ).

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  34. Ian,there is no agenda against you if you happen to think that,I obviously have no control and would not expect to have where my comment is posted,it just happened to be we were out all day and did not come on P C until evening.
    Of course flail trimming like anything else can be done badly but in general U K hedges are in good shape and flail trimming is at least as good as any other method.
    Farmland bird problems do not lie with hedges it is just that odd conservationists think they know best and put this propaganda out and seeing as conservationists are a clique then they seem to go along the route of you back me on this and I will back you on other things.
    Farmland bird problems lie with them requiring small areas on many more farms of wild bird seed mixtures.It really needs the schemes to promote what is needed.
    What is also needed along with this and would help immensely is to get farmers more interested in farmland birds such as with things like the Big Farmland Bird Count or whatever it was called as if people are interested in something then they are more likely to do things that are needed.
    I have been on farms all my life and can compare right from the 1950s up to today and in the 1950s there were far more farmland birds and for sure the hedges today are in better shape than they were then which must rule out hedge trimming today being the downfall of farmland birds.In my opinion not many farmland birds are big feeders of berries from hedges they are mostly if not completely seed eaters and insect eaters.

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    1. Who mentioned an agenda Dennis? I was merely pointing out that there is a reply button available to keep continuity on a thread just as I have done here. Having said that, your defensive response adds much more than I could ever say given I was agreeing with your basic points. As the phrase goes Dennis, 'play the ball not the man'. However at the risk of doing that myself, it shows a lot when the response goes against the point because you would hate to be seen to agree with me. Significantly, you completely failed to acknowledge that not all flailing operations are carried out by skilled contractors even though you know that it is a perfectly accurate statement to make.

      I will bite on one of your statements though Dennis, are you really saying that there has been a general increase in hedges since the 1950s? Personally, I do not see where that statement comes from and I was born in the 1960s. The removal of field boundaries from the 1970s is well documented and whilst there is some replacement in recent years, I would stop well short of making a statement that compares today with the 1950s. Further up the thread I mentioned the block of farmland in Cambridgeshire (also including parts of Bedfordshire down towards Biggleswade). It is admirable that hedges are being replanted but it is inescapable that the old field boundaries are still visible in the landscape.

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      1. Ian,your reply,ironically have not realised the reply button was for that purpose.
        You do surprise me about not admitting some flailing don badly,fact is I definitely said flail trimming like other things can be done badly.I would have thought that covered it.
        Again you misunderstand my point as originally in one earlier statement I feel sure I would have said(if not I should have said)hedges increased by something like 55,000 KM between 1990 and 2007,
        My point about hedges 1950 to today was that they are in better shape nowadays than they were in 1950,of course individual hedges or even some areas may vary but for sure all the hedges that I see in a line across the country from the wash downwards would be in that.
        It is a fact that some hedges were removed and I have never said they weren't,it was just simply needed to accommodate larger machines and move from mixed farming to more simple systems as machinery got more expensive and small systems of small complex units became unprofitable.
        Of one thing you may be sure I would not intentionally ignore any reply you expected and I hope this reply satisfies you on that score.
        I do actually think the answers to your points were there in some form but others you have misread or missed.

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        1. Fair enough Dennis...criticism accepted!

          I still am not sure I properly understand your point about hedges being better managed when there are less hedges though. The basic point of contention is not just about nesting habitat or food resources and each point cannot be separated on a national scale. As I said earlier, my local area has always been generally used for livestock farming and as a consequence there has been little or any loss since I was growing up in the 60s. However, it is not without significance that apart from spread of species with climate change (this includes recovery after 1963 BTW) there has not been much change in the avifauna of the area. It is true we lost a lot of our nesting lapwings (possibly proving that lapwings do not choose to nest on grazed meadows if other alternatives are available - a few still breed but not every year), wintering golden plover and our complete loss of grey partridge (the latter for reasons that are not entirely clear but appear to be something to do with drainage - it was never a huge population anyway but it was certainly stable up to the 1980s). Unfortunately, these are all species that have declined nationally and our only significant loss amongst the Passerines was the spotted flycatcher, which was lost due to a deterioration of the nearest woodland (not a hedgerow bird except on passage) although we still get a substantial Autumn passage. Not surprisingly, we have never had corn bunting, tree sparrow and yellowhammer except on the Manchester mosses although we have had occasional yellow wagtail records.

          Contrast this with the Manchester mosses and further west on the Blackpool Plain and it is a different story. Significantly, corn buntings and yellowhammers only cling on where the hedgerows still exist but not on the more open blocks. In other words, corn buntings and yellowhammers must require both the combination of arable crops to feed in whilst requiring suitable nesting habitat. The yellow wagtail situation is a little more complex because they are ground-nesters and not surprisingly, they cannot nest in cereal crops but they do well in pea and potato after a fashion. The early nesting seems to be unaffected but there is a high casualty rate for the repeat broods (yellow wagtails are double-brooded) after the crop opens out at ground level (the culprits can be foxes, weasel/stoat and rat BTW and not Corvids before Keith jumps in again 😉 ). The point being that it is not possible to make sweeping statements without understanding each individual case. This is a point that is often lost in translation because there is absolutely no reason to think that all farming is bad, there is even no reason to suggest that ALL INTENSIVE farming is bad. However, it is quite to correct to say that it can be bad just as accurately as saying that it can be good. What I find difficult to take is that a lot of well-meaning farmers continue to defend these practises, even if what they do themselves is good for wildlife. If you will excuse me a moment, it is also the reason 'conservationists' have given up trying to make the distinctions because bodies like the NFU continue to use the 'honour amongst thieves-type' argument and this has left 'conservationists' with little place to go.

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          1. Ian,

            Couple of points - corn bunting do not nest in hedges which the 3rd paragraph of your comment implies...typo?

            Yellow wagtail - how about low-input spring cereal sown at a low seed rate (<100kg) ? Although you'll struggle to find genuinely low-input spring cereal on most of the Manchester Mosses due to the naturally high SNS, perhaps only on some of well-oxidised knackered skirtland.

            Cheers,

            Ernest

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          2. Correction accepted even though that was not actually what I meant. 😉 The gist remains the same that the corn bunting populations on the Blackpool Plain are certainly more concentrated around the margins of the farmland rather than in the middle - something I noticed in Cambridgeshire too. It certainly does not suggest that corn buntings and definitely not yellowhammer do well when they have no hedges as per what Dennis was implying.

            Again, I was not solely thinking of the Manchester Mosses although I am sure you know there are some breeding reports from the Irlam side around the turf-growing farms near to the motorway. I was actually handed a BBS square east of Potton in Bedfordshire for one year and it was fantastic to see how the yellow wagtails were doing in the pea crop that particular year. I returned the following year and there was only wheat and perhaps not surprisingly, no yellow wagtails anywhere in the area.

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  35. Dennis, I had better explain my previous post as this seems to have turned into a blog on hedge management. Most if not all species in hedges have evolved to be able to reshoot or sprout from the base and in fact it's part of their natural life cycle; the best known example is hazels use for thatching and Fire wood before people had Tescos. The reason they have evolved this way rather than say taller canopy species is quite simple in that they had to due to pressure from mammoths/elephants. The worst thing you can do in hedge trimming is to continually lightly flail a hedge as the dead or old wood takes over and the hedge becomes thin and empty as I'm sure you've seen. The same thing happens when well meaning people cut an overgrown hedgerow off at height. Before the flail cutters hedges were copiced to the ground on a rotational basis which is by far the best management you can do as it results in wonderful new growth and in a remarkably short period of two years or so you have a new thick hedge. I do totally agree with you than the conservationists haven't got fainstest idea on this and should maybe ask someone who has ! The expression of flailing a hedge to an inch of it's life couldn't be further from the truth;

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    1. The decline in farmland birds is likely to be attributable to a number of factors. Clearly, the ecological requirements of a lapwing differ from those of a turtle dove and those of a yellow wagtail from the requirements of a whitethroat, say. The factors involved include changes in annual cropping patterns and the consequent loss of winter stubbles, improved (from the agricultural point of view!) land drainage, diminishing plant biodiversity within arable and grass crops, amongst others. That said, changes in hedgerows are certainly also a factor, especially the loss of many miles of hedgerow. The SS leaflet states that the amount of hedgerow has increased in the last few years but this is to be set against the huge losses that preceded this in the second half of the twentieth century. In the district in Warwickshire where I grew up, many small farms were consolidated into the hands of a small number of large arable farmers who grubbed out hedges to create very large fields and few if any of these hedges have been replaced to my knowledge. These lost hedges provided not only berries, Dennis, but also nesting cover for birds and food and habitat for various insects that provide prey for insectivorous birds.
      It is good news that some farmers have more recently planted new hedges and this should be beneficial but it must be recognised that new hedges will generally lack the plant diversity of the old hedges that have been lost, just as newly planted woodland will not match ancient woodland. It would be very unrealistic therefore to expect new hedges and woodland to quickly reverse bird declines.
      With respect to the management of existing hedgerows it is silly to make statements along the lines of 'conservationists haven't got the faintest idea' and no more helpful than similar derogatory statements about farmers. For a start some farmers are conservationists (and vice versa) and many conservationists work very closely with farmers and have a very good understanding of farming. RSPB advice on hedge trimming does not reject the use of mechanical flails which it describes as "an excellent hedge-trimming tool". It also encourages the use of coppicing/hedge-laying to encourage new growth in hedges that are losing vigour. The advice does argue in favour of encouraging thicker hedges which have been shown to be better for birds.

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      1. Jonathan,you will find that farming just like everything else has bigger machinery and some removal of hedges was bound to happen just like lots of gardens change shape and hedges removed.Farming does not stand in a time warp.
        Proper flail trimming will give a thicker hedge than any other procedure.
        If you look in a book of birds you will find after reading all about farmland birds that hardly any or even none make hardly any use of the berries that a farmland hedge can be expected to provide, maybe the only instance is something like a Bullfinch making use of Honeysuckle but with all the large numbers of these in woods and gardens then that is no problem surely.
        You may well disagree but if farmers were persuaded to grow small areas of wild bird food mixtures to replace those overwintered stubbles of yesteryear then I think the most important part towards more farmland birds would be achieved.
        That will not happen while this continual dialogue of the problem is hedges is constantly peddled.

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        1. I don't think you actually read what I wrote Dennis. I said that the use of flail trimmers is recommended in RSPB advice, I certainly didn't argue against it. I made it more than clear - I thought - that the importance of hedges is not just as a source of berries (I doubt that anyone believes it is) and I was at pains to stress that there are likely to be various factors involved in the decline of farmland birds. The loss of hedgerows is likely to be one of those factors but I certainly have not suggested the only one or even the most important.
          Having read your comment below to Ian Peters I would add that no-one has suggested that the loss of hedges has occurred since 1990. My words were "in the second half of the twentieth century" and the loss of hedgerows in that period is an undeniable fact. More recent planting of hedges has not nearly replaced those losses.
          If you were more careful to read what people actually write instead of taking any comment about what has happened in the countryside as an insult to all farmers you might find less to disagree with.

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          1. Apologies Jonathan, I had not seen this reply when I replied to Dennis today. I must admit, I did not see a reference to 1990 so I assumed I had missed it but this makes it clear. Fortunately, this does not change the argument that I presented to Dennis but it does change an assumption on my part that someone had posted a point that was drawing off the usual population indices and comparing them against the hedge losses. I suspect that there is no coincidence to the fact that 1990 is exactly 25 years ago (scary!) and is a convenient point to make a factual but more than slightly misleading statement that hedgerow replanting has increased since 1990. Nice counterpoint to Mark's title on this thread...Same Old Song. 🙂

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          2. Jonathon,it is a bad point that conservationists make out that hedges declined in the second half of last century,just a convenient date to pinpoint to their advantage.
            It really dismisses the fact that farmers over several century's increased dramatically the miles of hedges in this country to keep their livestock in the fields.
            They were in fact conservationists in the true sense of the word and in fact were probably the only people to grow hedges of any amount in the country so to lose some for the fact that the need for larger machinery should be kept in perspective by conservationist but it never is of course because it suits there purpose to quote a date of late last century.Fact is there are plenty of hedges in fact more than enough for the farmland birds we have got it is other factors limiting farmland bird numbers.
            We could have 100% more hedges without any improved increase in farmland bird numbers.
            Two factors would improve numbers,go backwards to mixed farming and make sure acres of land is left in stubbles overwinter while using binders or old inefficient combines to harvest the crops.That will not happen.The other factor would be to get farmers to grow a small area of wild bird food mixture,this is at least a possibility and would definitely work as proved by many farmers and indeed at RSPB Arne.
            The only problem with this is getting them to do it but so far there is not any sign of the correct methods to get them to adopt this practice being pursued.The really ironic part of it all is that there is even a chance if it was pursued and was farmers did this then even birds like the Turtle Dove may benefit as weeds would prosper as well in the wild bird food area and may provide them with their required diet.
            This whole hedge business is a complete red herring as far as farmland birds are looked at today but hey it is more trouble to get farmers doing the required thing than moaning about hedges.
            Lets face it at least 95% of population do not care one jot about farmland birds and do the other 5% care enough to get the necessary things in place to improve numbers,to me it seems not as going on about hedges is the preferred solution,even when the RSPB have proven it works.incredible.

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    2. Julian,I basically agree with you,the big problem I believe is that it is difficult when hedge trimming to avoid the height increasing by a inch each year then sometime you have to flail it back harder and then the big uproar erupts from the great unknowing,of course over the longer term the hedge is improved but it does not say that in the great RSPB hedge maintenance guide,of course they know more about birds than contractors but they certainly need to leave hedge maintenance to the professionals.

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  36. I emailed Beefy for a comment on Songbord Survival's latest balls up. Complete waste of time. Incomprehensible response regardiing chicken conservation and the makers of Paxo.

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  37. I welcomed the helpful picture of a cat in the leaflet. It certainly clarified its identification for me, and ruled out possible confusion species such as wombat, gnat or rat.

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  38. I have been quite amused to see how this thread developed and it says a lot about how two sides can be so widely separated that they do not like even to agree on a single point. There is superb scene in the film 'Serenity' that starts with the line 'No. you're playing this all wrong.' The assassin then goes on to verbally act out the scene instead of getting into the true dialogue. It is a piece of absolute genius from Joss Wheddon because he was obviously filling what would have been the usual Hollywood space-filler and replacing it with a purely oral piece. In some respects, this thread followed the same idea an instead of getting into the dialogue, we cut almost immediately to the insults. 🙂

    Some great one-liners from various people but can anyone describe what the line 'smart a***d conservationist' means? I am not too bothered about being an a***... even a smart one but what is a conservationist? I am not posting this under Dennis' post simply because he was not the only person that mentioned the term and it is often repeated in replies to Mark's blog. Now I assume I AM a conservationist because I am one of the people the term was aimed at but I am not sure if it just a catch-all term in the same way that Creationists refer to anyone who opposes Creationism as Evolutionists. I suppose it is preferable to the once widely used and abused term of Townies that was often proved to be inaccurate anyway. As Jonathan has very adequately described, anyone involved in conservation is just as likely to be a farmer anyway. So to ask again, in the context it has been used here...what is a conservationist?

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    1. Ian,thought you would like a reply and guess you were really meaning me,I do not consider anything I said as a insult but lots who call themselves conservationists constantly say things about farmers that are super critical and even insulting and so I have no problem with straight talking them especially when they are either talking rubbish about farming which they know very little getting facts completely wrong about hedge trimming,quality of hedges and it seems lying about there being less hedges now than in 1990.
      I never mean to generalise but you just cannot make that point all the time.
      In this instance seeing as in general lots of conservationists(perhaps ironically I would like to think I am one)like to continually put the boot into hardworking farmers I think I have proved that conservationists do not like the same treatment and sadly farmers in general ignore all the criticism unjustly thrown at them.
      There are so many instances now of farmers helping with various projects with birds that it seems ridiculous.

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      1. I was definitely NOT aiming this post solely at you - in fact quite to the contrary because you are the only one of those who have posted similar comments to have engaged me about hedge management, which I fully respect.

        The reason I used the horses for courses (three times on one thread, for Mark 😉 ) saying is that wildlife conservation has faced up to the fact that not everything is animal rights, wildlife rescue or even global pressure groups. Similarly, a farmer is a bit of a generic term but it is preferable to the generic term for an agriculturist, which could mean anyone farming for conservation (as per the RSPB), anyone growing vegetables on an allotment to the traditional grazing farmers and arable farmers (arguably, every gardener could easily be classed as an agriculturist but the fact that we long since invented the appropriate term that covers this). You are right though, I know 'conservationists' personally who do not like to have their opinions challenged and that includes by someone like me that is allegedly 'on the same side'.

        One thing I want to correct you on though, whilst I am aware that other people may have used 1990 as a start point, I did not do so. There have been a few references to population indices on this and other threads but like a lot of things we have been discussing, we are not necessarily talking about a homogenous subject. I think we will almost certainly see a lot more about this taking over in the future because it is relevant to longer-term changes in practises. The reason goes back to the BTO's 25-year index of population change and it has caused a lot of confusion (no criticism meant to the BTO - it is the basic interpretation that is wrong). The 25-year index of change is quite sensible because it is also a human generation. It reflects both the actual population figures of the species in question but maps out any changes that may have taken place over a suitable period of time.* In theory, it should eliminate short-term climatic events (sunspot cycles and other short-period weather events) but map out longer term changes as well as changes in use of the environment. Here is the potential snag though - species declines often lag behind the effect that caused them, as it did for house sparrows for instance because even an individual house sparrow has a fair life expectancy once it has survived to maturity. Unfortunately, a lot of people still cling to the 25-year population index whereas with some birds, the life expectancy of a mature adult would exceed this period and therefore, a population decline would accelerate long after the effect that started the trend. Similarly, if we compare hedgerow area between 1950s and today, then we will get differences for sure. However, compare 1950s to 1970s and there would have been little change, 1970 to 1990 and a rapid loss followed by a recovery with replanting schemes between 1990 and today. I suspect what you are trying to say about discreet hedgerow management is similar although I am not sure how we could prove that hedgerow bottoms have been better managed in recent times.

        * The 25-year index was not directly linked to human generations when it was derived but it is a useful yardstick to measure it by and makes a lot of sense. As I said, the interpretation is where this index breaks down because population figures are usually quoted from atlas sources similar to the human population census if you like. Where individual species population figures are available, it is perfectly acceptable to quote figures between atlas surveys so long as everyone knows what is being quoted and its source. Similarly, it is perfectly acceptable to quote from figures that emphasise longer term trends (again as long as we are clear what and where we are quoting from). The biggest mistake (as we are arguably doing here) is that people do not define what index they are using. To start form a random date such as the 1950s or the 1990s is just meaningless in that respect because it is just cherry-picking the argument. Similarly, it is not difficult to extrapolate that if you have got an unknown such as an index for measuring hedgerow loss (in this case) or recreation we can only use general trends although GPS data should help pin the data down in the future.

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  39. Ian,I cannot reply to a reply I guess but I see I did miss one thing.
    You can be absolutely sure I have no problem agreeing wit you but it seems really I thought I had but you read it differently.I definitely said flail trimming like anything else can be done badly,I surely cannot be more blunt than that.

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    1. Again, fair comment Dennis but there was no doubting that you wanted to seek to dismiss my comments and label me as a 'conservationist. I accept this was probably due to cross-posting with reference to someone else's comments and it is an easy thing to do (indeed, I almost certainly did so in posting to your comments too 🙂 ).

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      1. Well some of the blame must lie with me I think Ian but I must correct your thoughts if only to put your mind at rest as It seems you seriously think my comments regarded you.Definitely incorrect I was talking in general terms of conservationists who on conservation matters I have the greatest respect for but sadly in my opinion they also think they know more about farming matters than farmers.
        I would never dismiss anyones comments which obviously includes your comments I think it was simply a silly fact on my part not realising I coul put a comment in a certain place by clicking on the reply button,that seems very funny now.
        I am sorry you seem to have taken it as a personal attack when I assure you that was not my intention or I would have put your name before any comment aimed at you.

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        1. Rest assured Dennis, I did not take it as a personal attack. 😉 I just saw that the term was being chucked out as a catch-all by some contributors. It is a well known insult (aka bunny-huggers etc) that is sometimes leveled at supporters of global pressure groups like Greenpeace or animal rights supporters neither of which, includes me BTW. I know you cannot speak for other contributors on this blog any more than I can but it genuinely rankles when someone spits out a term like that between gritted teeth. As you rightly point out, a lot of farmers are conservationists by nature in the wider sense of the word.

          I chose not to get involved in the opening comments of this blog until I had something to answer that I was interested in. All in all, it has not been a bad discussion but I think the original posts also contributed to a few cross-posts too...just a hazard of the Internet (I guess!).

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  40. I'm a bit late with this one, but I find it interesting that Keith Cowieson has simply responded by picking up on people's irrelevant grammatical mistakes, rather than explaining the blatant flaws in this embarrassment of a poster.
    Songbird Survival had little credibility in the first place, but here we have incorrectly labelled photographs and entirely invalid statistics being defended by their misinformed and arrogant director - it's a disgrace to all that science stands for.

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  41. "irrelevant blatant flaws little credibility incorrectly labelled entirely invalid misinformed and arrogant"

    Blissful ignorance is an important component of happiness - that's why it's so popular

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  42. Interested the comments on hedges.

    Here on the Beds/Herts/Cambridgeshire border we seem to be in peak hedge trimming season right now. The way many hedges have been treated is a disgrace - branches split and smashed, bark damaged and branches of mature trees half broken off, with seemingly no attempt to come back and make good any damage. This treatment isn't management, it's vandalism - if I was to do the same to the trees in my local park I'd be up in front of the magistrate. If this is being repeated elsewhere then perhaps that's why David McGrath's original comment on flailing seemed to strike a chord (45 likes and counting).

    Of course Dennis and others are right; flailing itself may not be the problem - it can be done well or badly. The more significant question is whether such damage is merely unsightly and yet with trivial consequence, or is harming wildlife by leaving hedges in unfavourable condition and even slowly removing many of our remaining hedges by stealth.

    Of course we know trees and bushes are adapted to grow back when damaged or cut. Either though must carry some risk of harm - fungal infection etc. beating the tree's defence mechanism - the risk increasing with frequency or the type of wounds more exposed to the elements and not allowing water to drain away. I presume pollarding, coppicing etc. and traditional methods of managing hedges were carried out with great care and skill - and could prolong the life of a tree so treated indefinitely - for this reason. There may be practical difficulties which prevent such labour intensive work on a large scale now, but surely even in an intensively farmed landscape we can do better?

    The other point is that as well as the wildlife they support the hedges themselves are wildlife - actors in the play - and deserve to be treated with care and respect in their own right. With indiscriminate repeat trimming where are the next generation of hedgerow trees going to spring from? It's quite common to see a mixed hedge where self sown oak, ash, maple etc. are kept slashed to bush height, while trees of the same species have been planted - with all the problems that planting entails. These same trees are the ones damaged when the cutter comes past once they've grown to a size, assuming they're allowed to.

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    1. Darn it! I have to use the 'horses for courses' (sorry Mark!) gag again. 😉

      All the objections you have voiced are entirely appropriate MK, and to say differently is entirely wrong. I refer back to one of my answers to Dennis but bad flailing leads to gaps that take more than decades to re-generate whereas careful trimming and much as I hate it, periodic flailing (we can argue til't the cows come home about how often 😉 ) will still produce results. Dennis is making a wider point that hedgerow loss is a significant loss to certain farmland birds but this is more than adequately dealt with by Jonathan's responses (et al) but it is not at all proof that flailing is a bad strategy. Dennis is trying to position himself into the original idea introduced along this blog that hedgerow loss (and I am being generous here) is insignificant...nothing I have seen has proved that idea to me in my world because I have not seen declines in my local bird population given that I live surrounded by livestock farming. Flailing has made a difference and sometimes in reducing a hedgerow that was otherwise out of control but then again, I am not sure that hedge-trimming would not have achieved the same results. I reject totally Dennis's idea that long term hedgerow loss has no role to play in loss of some farmland species. Dennis (sorry Dennis!) is clinging to the idea that arable farming is distinctly different from livestock farming in terms of land management and citing dissimilar examples (a la Keith above with the predator research) does not work. If anything else, this thread has helped to thrash this idea out albeit that the same arguments will come up again and again...or as Mark said 'Same Old Song...albeit that the way this thread has developed, The Song Remains The Same, would have been equally appropriate.

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  43. Hi Ian - just to say thanks for responding and I enjoyed reading your comments above mine. If nothing else, this thread has made me look at recently flailed hedges in a different way and wonder how they might respond in say 2, 5 or 20 years time and question my assumption/prejudice that flailing is almost always bad news. I still say quite a lot of it is though. I've a suspicion I may be passing some of the re-established hedges you refer to in an earlier post. They're doing well, long may it continue.

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  44. Mark, most farmers tend to manage their own hedges and due to the hedge cutting restrictions under cross compliance it's done over the winter. If it's done badly with blunt flails yes it looks a mess but it certainly doesn't kill the hedge, if the root stock is healthy it grows away quickly in the spring. If you look carefully at a regularly flailed hedge inside the canopy you can see the point where previous cutting had been done and the new growth has started at that point. Done with sharp flails by professionals you can get a tidier result. Unfortunate repeatable cutting in this way the bottom of the hedge which isn't cut, the base, doesn't sprout and the base gets thin and open after time. This is the main issue with flail cutters. Before mechanical cutters hedges were laid in stock areas or completely copiced at ground level for fire wood or fence wood then allowed to regrow ten, fifteen years and then recopiced in a rotation. This results in a completely different hedge profile. This can be done these days with modern timber processing equipment and we do several hundred meters a year which perversely resulted in a barge of critism initially until it was explained.

    Hedge management is quite involved and not made any easier by the hedge cutting restrictions which are now part of cross compliance as the result of pressure from I would suggest ill informed parties which limits time available for proper management for fairly spurious reasons. This results in the job being done as fast as possible before ground conditions deteriorate in the winter and the window of opportunity is lost. The result can be a mess especially were two years growth has to be cut as the result of say rotational ELS options.

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