Left undone…

  • Defra still hasn’t answered this very simple question – ‘Do ministers sign off on responses to e-petitions. And who signed off the response to John Armitage’s successful e-petition about licensing shooting estates?’
  • Teresa Dent hasn’t yet replied on behalf of Rules restaurant on the expected levels of poisonous lead in the meat that they sell. I’ll keep you up to date with the GWCT response but I also will go back to Rules and tell them that GWCT apparently can’t answer the questions that they themselves should be answering.
  • The Environment Agency still hasn’t reached a final decision on extraction licences affecting Catfield Fen.  Instead they have sent out an email ‘The Environment Agency was due to announce its decision on two abstraction licence applications at Catfield in Norfolk by 31 March 2015. Due to the importance of this decision we are postponing this until mid May.’. This is pathetic, and looks like using the general election as a reason for not acting. If EA were a surgeon then it would postpone life-or-death operations so long that that their patients would die.
  • Songbird Survival still haven’t enlightened us about which studies of the impacts of predators on songbirds there are serious doubts as to their quality and findings.
  • They forgot the… has forgotten to produce a list of farmers who want to be publicly idnetified as being against the RSPB
  • Defra seem unbothered by the fact that their minister made an outrageous claim on the likelihood that we would reach our biodiversity target by 2020
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20 Replies to “Left undone…”

  1. Rules Restaurant has a great opportunity to show real leadership here - commit to sourcing game from estates which:

    - Exclude the use of lead shot

    - Actively protect settling hen harrier pairs and demonstrate the efficacy of diversionary feeding should hen harrier predation on red grouse become problematic

    - Have in place comprehensive SSSI/SAC/SPA management plans and associated costed, timed delivery plans, monitoring, and reporting, such that progress towards attainment of favourable condition is demonstrated

    - Celebrate these initiatives and thus gain market share from less reputable competitors.

    Perhaps they could work with others to develop a voluntary wildlife-friendly game estate Certification Scheme, so they can differentiate themselves in the market place?

  2. As regards predators on songbird numbers scientists continually claim that corvids have no effect and yet that is virtually impossible to be correct as other factors are affecting numbers so how can anyone evaluate what % of losses are due to different factors and now we have RSPB apparently having to try diversionary feeding on a reserve to try and stop predation by Red Kites on Lapwing chicks.
    This is going to be a difficult puzzle to solve as diversionary feeding will attract more Red Kites and also over the whole country corvids will take lots more Plover chicks than Red Kites,of course not scientific but it must be a fact.
    The RSPB are in fact in my opinion by admitting this problem with Red Kites as good as admitting that those of us consider that the corvids do have some effect on songbird numbers are in fact correct.
    One more contradiction must also be that those who blame loss of farmland hedges for loss of farmland birds then how is it that Hope Farm has presumably with no more hedges than was there years ago improved farmland bird numbers impressively.
    It is obvious from this that farmland hedges are not a problem for the number of farmland birds and could in fact support quite a big increase in numbers if other factors were put in place to increase numbers.

    1. Im pretty sure they have put new hedgerows and habitat in at hope farm, so that is evidence that habitat is restricting species numbers?

    2. Dennis, a couple of comments from me on your interesting observations:
      - There are a variety of statistical methods enabling scientists to disentangle the relative contributions of various factors to songbird populations trends. Can I suggest you read Birds and Agriculture by Wilson et al. as a this describes, in non-technical language which even a mathsphobiant like I can grasp.
      - I doubt any scientist would claim that predation can never affect prey populations - basic ecology tells us it can.
      - Red kites aren't song birds.
      - Ample evidence exists to demonstrate that the population densities of many farmland bird species are correlated with agricultural yield. The correlation is negative. In other words, as yield increases, the populations of birds associated with agriculture decline.
      - Who is claiming that loss of hedgerows is a major driver of the loss of farmland birds? It may contribute to the decline of some species (linnet? cirl bunting?), but other factors, such as the switch from spring to autumn sown cereals, loss of winter stubble with broadleaved weeds and loss of botanical (and this invertebrate) interests in grassland are contribute far more to farmland bird declines.
      - Hope Farm has achieved an impressive increase in farmland bird populations as the RSPB has improved habitat quality - yet is still full of predators. What does that tell us?
      - Cirl buntings in the south west have increased dramatically as farmers have increased weedy winter stubble and grassy margins full of grasshoppers. Magpies, sparrows hawks etc are super-abundant in the areas in which cirl buntings have dramatically increased. What might one deduce from this?

  3. A timely reminder of just how awful the departing Government has been.

    And to remember that it decisively failed to resolve one of its most spectacular failures, the great forest sell off, claiming lack of time at the last Queens Speech - a claim shown to be what it always was, just an excuse to do nothing as the legislation programme has faded to a complete halt. The coalition spent most of the parliament blaming Labour for everything and is now pushing difficult decisions into the next Parliament. One can only conclude that as labour caused all the problems in the first place they should be given the chance to sort them out - the Conservatives and Lib Dems have proved themselves incapable.

    Meanwhile, in my home constituency, Bristol West, a storm has broken out in a teacup over departing Lib Dem MP Stephen William's claim that he opposed the forest sell off - I wonder why he raised it at all as in all the votes which took place he voted for the Government proposals ? He is now locked in a hair-splitting dispute with 38 degrees (who really did have a huge impact on the outcome with what is still one of their biggest petitions ever): he cannot be accused of supporting the Government because the votes were only on an opposition day motion; the Government dropped the proposals before a full Commons vote and in any case it wasn't him - it was Lib-Dem activists who distributed his claim. Make of it what you will, the only thing it tells me is that the Green menace is real seen as real by Lib Dems here.

  4. Steve J,I think we sing from the same sheet.I have not said Red Kites are song birds rather more like corvids taking young birds as described and as the hedges at Hope Farm have not been influential in increasing numbers like you I was saying the switch in cereals from spring sown to winter,stubbles over winter and areas of wild bird food grown were the points that would improve farmland bird numbers and farmland hedges were adequate to provide for increased numbers.
    It must be a fact however that any numbers of chicks taken have some effect,it is just impossible for it to be otherwise and as songbird numbers get lower it becomes easier for any predator to have a impact on numbers.

    1. Sorry Dennis, but your final sentence contains two very common misconceptions.

      1. "It must be a fact however that any numbers of chicks taken have some effect"

      This is anything but fact. Take a single pair of Blackbirds, a multi-brooded species, which, shall we say, attempts to raise 3 broods of a minimum of 3 young in a given season. That's potentially, 11 individuals (including the parents) on the wing come Autumn. From these, only 2 are required to survive to breed the following year to maintain a stable population. The remainder (if they escape predation) simply die of starvation or disease. It makes no difference how they die, they were doomed to do so in any case.

      2. "as songbird numbers get lower it becomes easier for any predator to have a impact on numbers"

      You're forgetting density dependence. Generally, as a given species declines in number, individuals become harder to find. Therefore, a smaller proportion of the population is predated. Any predator worth its salt can't afford to waste time and energy seeking out Bearded Tits for example, while thousands of Starlings are roosting in the same reedbed. This isn't to say that predation can't be the "last straw" in some, extremely rare species. But this is a proximate, as opposed to ultimate factor.

      Songbird Survival conveniently ignore these basic ecological principles when putting forward their ridiculous arguments. Just one of the reasons why they're loathed and laughed at in equal measure. 😉

      1. Yes the fundamental problems for songbirds in the intensively farmed countryside are a lack of food resources to keep alive through the winter, a lack of quality breecing habitat, and a lack of food to feed their chicks. The only way around this is to provide sufficient compensatory habitat, and as far as possible to invest in the management of this habitat to maximise the quality of the habitat provided. Hope Farm has been exemplary in demonstrating how this can be done, and in a way that still enables profitable farming. So why is it that the industry is so reluctant to learn from it and show leadership?

    2. Dennis: you say that 'any number of chicks taken have some effect'. Effect on what? Do you mean an effect on those particular chicks? Well, yes, they get eaten. Or do you mean on the overall population size of that particular species? If that's what you mean, then sorry, no. The blackbirds that habitually nest in my garden frequently lose clutches to magpies, but nature accounts for those losses by having large clutches - predation causes over-large clutches to evolve as a buffer again predation.

      I do, though, agree with your point that once some bird population sizes have been driven to a very small size by other factors, such as decline in habitat quality, then predation can come into play as a significant problem. But only for a few species. The solution to this problem is to get the habitat quality back up so bird populations recover to such a size that predation ceases to be a factor.

      Only a very small number of species with very particular traits face the problem with predators described above though. The vast majority of song birds are not at such a low population size that predation is a factor at the population level.

  5. John Stone,the answer is all about the schemes to get farmers to help wildlife pay for the wrong things basically.It is a simple fact that more importance should be placed on special wildlife bird mixtures on small acreage of farms.
    Proof is really simple as with no extra habitat at RSPB Arne and on other farms following this policy the increase in numbers of birds increase tremendously.proof that present habitat could easily take a large increase in numbers and it is winter food that is the main problem coupled with some of the food and associated weeds are available for most of the year.
    Coop and Steve J,my guess is you are both much better academically than myself but every death that is a killing of bird,animal or human and anything else must have a impact on numbers of that species it just cannot be any other way.Fact is to take it to the extreme Passenger Pigeon and others went extinct so somewhere killing did count.
    No I do not follow S S by the way unless you think I follow their ideas.
    In fact RSPB by trying to stop Red Kites taking Lapwing chicks could be said to disprove your theory otherwise they would say the chicks raise in other places would compensate those lost on that reserve.

    1. Don't think you've quite grasped what we mean here Dennis. Perhaps we've not explained it well enough.

      1. "every death that is a killing of bird,animal or human and anything else must have a impact on numbers of that species it just cannot be any other way."

      This is, of course true, if we take it in the short-term. If there are 10 House Sparrows in your garden, and two are predated, then (obviously) the population (in your garden) has declined by 20%. But that's not what we're referring to. It's the long-term, year to year trend that's important, not short-term fluctuations. So, the fact remains that (in general) predation doesn't drive declines.

      2. "Fact is to take it to the extreme Passenger Pigeon and others went extinct so somewhere killing did count."

      Passenger Pigeons were exterminated by humans, Dennis. The rate at which they were killed exceeded that of their reproduction. Therefore, if the human population were entirely dependent on Passenger Pigeons, their population would have declined as their prey gradually disappeared, unless they switched prey. In which case, the pressure would be taken off the Passenger Pigeons, allowing numbers to recover. Look at the case of Barnacle Geese in Svalbard. There's a correlation between breeding success and the Lemming cycle. In high Lemming years, the geese turn out more young. In low years, they struggle. Why? we ask. The answer is simple. In poor Lemming years, Arctic Foxes are forced to switch prey to the goslings. In good years, they switch back. Therefore, over time like all organisms, the goose population fluctuates around a central tendency.

      3. "In fact RSPB by trying to stop Red Kites taking Lapwing chicks could be said to disprove your theory otherwise they would say the chicks raise in other places would compensate those lost on that reserve."

      Firstly, it's not a theory. Nor is it ours. It's just basic ecological truth. Secondly, I refer you back to proximate, and ultimate factors. If a species declines to a level at which it can't absorb predation, then said predation can be seen as additive. Additive to the main factor behind the decline (in the case of Lapwings, changes in habitat). But, it is still only a proximate factor. Preventative measures such as those you refer to are designed to provide "breathing space", nothing more. If the ultimate factor isn't addressed, removing predation won't make a blind bit of difference.

      Finally, it wasn't my intention to imply that you support SS, Dennis. My apologies if you got that impression. Nonetheless, their cynical attempts to mislead those less informed by asserting that predators drive long-term declines in their prey, and that their control/removal will make everything hunky dory again are, quite simply, fraudulent. Therefore, In my opinion, the charity commision should take a close look at them for obtaining money through false pretences.

      Hope this helps, Dennis. 🙂

  6. Dennis - you quite clearly know your stuff. I, on the other hand, got a D in GCSE maths, so am terrible academically! But losses of individuals to predation need not affect overall population size. My blackbirds usually have a clutch of three or four at a time. Clearly, if all of those survived, we'd soon be knee-deep in blackbirds. But my local blackbird population is basically stable. So a high proportion of those chicks die for one reason or another. The magpies are pretty good at finding nests. In spite of this, as I say, the blackbird population is doing just fine. Predation rates aren't affecting overall population size, although it does of course affect the clutch that's eaten.

  7. Coop and Steve J,appreciate your really polite way of explaining your theory and to be fair most scientists theory but however I disagree with that theory probably only because we now have so many what on there own would be small numbers of chicks taken.We now have in my estimation more corvids than ever,more hawk type predators than in our lifetimes,more Badgers(probably 100% more and just look at Springwatch last night to see what one Badger can do),more cats,many more people walking dogs where it would be better not to and mostly off leads,this must disturb many nesting birds and eggs or chicks being lost.Added to this of course in the case of farmland birds because not enough emphasis has been put on providing small acreage of wild bird food mixture being grown on many more farms my guess is that farmland birds are not rearing as many chicks as they would have done when say for example in the first half of 20th century when more food was available for them to feed their chicks.
    Sorry to disappoint you but I am a lost cause on this issue.

    1. Dennis, I've no problem showing politeness to you, or any other who wishes to discuss these issues in such a manner. 🙂

      Regarding corvid and raptor populations, We used to have a lot more, before firearms were invented. These groups have been around for millions of years. If they were capable of wiping out their prey, they really ought to have done it by now, don't you think? As for the Badger episode, this is one isolated incident. Avocets are long-lived birds, and, like every other organism on the planet each individual only needs to have replaced itself with one other over it's lifespan for the population to be maintained. The Avocets at Minsmere take a hammering every year, from a variety of species, and single figure fledgings are common. Yet, numbers on the reserve remain pretty stable, and the national population is increasing. Q.E.D.

      As for the remainder of your post: the factors you refer to are all anthropocentric. And that's exactly what I've addressed in my previous answers, under proximate and ultimate causes. The fact is that we, as a species, are no longer prone to many of the mortality agents that would've previously regulated our population, and are out-stripping not only, our resources at an alarming rate, but those of everything else as well. It's illogical to continue to blame naturally occuring predators, all of which are (imagine my italics, please) regulated by these mortality agents for the damage that we, ourselves are doing. It's just "fiddling while Rome burns".

      The truth, no matter how uncomfortable, remains; regardless whether we choose to ignore it. I could go on providing examples ad infinitum, but I'd only be repeating myself. Trust me, Dennis. You obviously have an enquiring mind, that makes you far from a lost cause! 😉

      1. Aagh! ANTHROPOGENIC is what I meant to say! Wrote the post fresh out of the bath, late for my saturday night session down the boozer! Yes, folks, saturday night still holds (albeit imaginary) promise for an almost 52 year old single bloke. I realised my mistake not 100 yards from my front door, and fretted about it all the way to the pub! Home now, 3 parts P***ed. No... erm..."company". Thought I'd better correct myself before some other smartarse does! Serve me right for using big words. 🙂

    2. Hi Dennis. Basic population ecology, not unsupported theory, I'm afraid. One has to look at the mass of evidence and concede that predators are not responsible for the widespread and very dramatic population level declines of farmland and some woodland bird species. One only has to look at examples of where concerted species recovery efforts have led to, well, species recovery, in spite of large and often increasing predator populations, to see that birds are quite capable of recovery, and holding their own, in spite of predation, so long as habitat quality is restored and maintained. All species subject to predation - and let's face it, that's just about all vertebrates other than adult megafauna (rhinos etc) - have evolved ways of persisting in spite of that predation. The factor that's done them in is anthropogenic land use change.

  8. Mark,well I had no idea.You know how much I admire you as a person and the work you do.
    These days you must be a very important person for wildlife as there is a very small % of the total population fighting their corner,it is easy on sites like yours to think there are lots of supporters but if anyone asks around in the real world then we soon find that wildlife is generally of very little concern to them.
    I watched a TV program a few nights ago and in Australia a politician took up the cause of some strain of Penguin and they completely moved a town that was destroying them.
    Oh how we could do with a politician like that to take up the Hen Harrier cause.

  9. Mark,several things stick in my mind today.
    How polite Coop and Steve J have been while having strong views(even using long words)
    How nice it would be to have a Minister in the Government who would get things done against wildlife crime in the UK.The town moving was finally instigated because someone deliberately drove around killing something like 54 of those Penguins.
    Your blog today at the end saying any political party or organisation that you agreed with everything would only have yourself as its only member.Guess I would be in exactly the same position so there would be at least two organisations with just one member.
    One funny thing which just proves how crazy things can happen.We always get to Goyt Valley on a visit for a day when we spend ten days visiting friends and relatives each year.On one visit while sitting on top of the hill there we saw flying through just about all the hawks and falcons in the UK.Probably they were flying fast to get through such a dangerous area and doubt that experience will never be repeated for anyone.


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