Raven support

Raven. Photo: Tim Melling

The crowdfunder for a legal challenge of SNH’s licensing of a Raven cull has made great progress – over 16,000 pounds and counting.

I donated to this crowdfunder on its first day and I’d really like it to meet its target of 25k.  So I’ve gone back and given it a top-up from me. Can you help please?

By many of us giving a little bit, we can take on the might of government, industry and vested interests.  That’s what this is all about.  Good luck to Ruth Tingay and the Scottish Raptor Study Group – but  they need our cash as well as our best wishes.

Please donate here.


Tim Melling – Sparrowhawk


Tim writes: I was driving in South Yorkshire back in February when I spotted this female Sparrowhawk dispatching a Woodpigeon. I pulled in the car just beyond and leaned out of the window to photograph the encounter. Believe it or not a Woodpigeon weighs about 450g whereas a female Sparrowhawk weighs just 260g (and the smaller male weighs a mere 150g). That’s like a Bantamweight taking on a Heavyweight, though probably more like Amir Khan taking on Nicholas Soames (I’d pay good money to see that fight). The chilling detail of the Woodpigeon’s claw wrapped around the leg of the Sparrowhawk suggests it wasn’t dead. You can also see the Woodpigeon’s blood smeared across the Sparrowhawk’s chest. Nature red in tooth and claw.


An FoI response from NE

A while ago I let NE know what I thought of them and asked a few questions of them. Fair dos, they have come up with a decent-ish response.

We learn that the long-running and long overrunning NE Hen Harrier research project will get an airing in Vancouver in August, that the southern reintroduction project is hopelessly stalled and that it takes more or less a calendar year for NE to investigate the killing of species in an SPA.



You asked for:

1. Please tell me when that analysis [of the Hen Harrier tracking data] will be available to the public?

The Hen Harrier tracking data is currently being analysed by leading raptor experts and will be presented at the International Ornithological Congress in August. Following this we intend to make the Hen Harrier data available to the public through a suitable format.

2. Is that right [that those who might provide Hen Harrier chicks [for southern reintroduction] from outside England have noticed your strange and irrational behaviour and don’t think that you are a fit and able body to be given Hen Harrier chicks]?

No, this is not correct as Natural England does not recognise the situation you set out. I can confirm however that we do not plan to release any birds this year.

3. Whose investigation [into the ‘Bowland gull cull’]?

It is Natural England’s investigation.

4. It’s not a police investigation, it’s an NE investigation, isn’t it?

That is correct, it is not a police investigation.

5. Does it really take 10 months to investigate known individuals killing juvenile gulls in an SPA?

The case is complex so Natural England has needed this time to complete a thorough investigation and to allow it to assess the next course of action.

6. Are you investigating yourselves or others?

Natural England is conducting an investigation of others.

7. Please tell me what is going on?

The investigation is in its final stages.



Guest blog – UK Swift Awareness Week 16th-23rd June by Dick Newell

Lifetime bird watcher and over 60 years an RSPB member, Dick Newell, retired from the software industry, now devotes time to devising ways to help Swifts, which led recently to the BTO giving a Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology to Action for Swifts. 
actionforswifts.blogspot.com documents a large number of case studies, designs and ideas.
Dick wrote an earlier blog about Swifts in December 2016 (What if a Swift were a bat or a newt?).



UK Swift Awareness Week 16th-23rd June, 2018

This blogpost is about publicising Swift Awareness Week which will be taking place across the UK and in Ireland in June.

One may well ask, why do we need a Swift Awareness Week?

The recent 2017 Breeding Bird Survey report shows that, by 2016, Swifts in the UK declined by 53% since 1995 and by 39% since 2006. 39% in 10 years equates to an average annual decline of 4.8%.

In a previous guest blog post, I lamented the lack of any legal protection for Swift nest sites outside the breeding season. Because bats and newts do have such legal protection, every environmental consultant is aware of them and takes the time and trouble to search for them to include in their environmental impact assessments. It is not so with Swifts.

It can cost a lot of money to accommodate bats or newts, but making provision for Swifts costs very little.

Some level of legal protection is available, provided the local planning authority knows there are swifts breeding in properties to be renovated. They then have the option of imposing a condition to preserve existing access to nest sites, or to provide mitigation in the form of requiring new nest sites. Whether such instructions are carried out competently (or even at all) is rarely monitored.

We will use an anecdote to illustrate the consequences of a general lack of awareness of Swifts. Fortunately a local person was very aware:

She alerted us to a situation where a garage was about to be demolished while there was still a pair of Swifts feeding a nestling in the roof. The garage was to be removed to make way for a new development of 4 houses. While we could have played hard ball and insisted that the project was halted, we did not do this. Confronted with a large steel ball hanging from a crane, we instead took the pragmatic (though possibly illegal) approach, of removing the nestling for fostering by rehab specialist Judith Wakelam. It was successfully released 2 weeks later.

The company hired to assess the environmental impact detected 1 bat leaving the garage, but the survey did not reveal the presence of Swifts. The recommendations included provision of bat boxes and bird [sic] boxes. One supposes a few tit boxes scattered around might make people feel good, but it would not do a whole lot for local biodiversity,

The 4 houses provide 5 suitable gables for Swift boxes, and, with the help of an enlightened developer, 10 internal swift boxes have been installed – a good end result.

This is but one small example of a house builder doing the right thing. Some major house builders like Barratt Homes and the Duchy of Cornwall are committed to incorporating large numbers of internal Swift boxes in their new developments.

Swifts, have a population half life of 20 years. We are not going to get any changes in the law, so a grassroots campaign is needed to raise awareness instead.

It is this thought that has inspired UK Swift Awareness Week 2018 – a nationwide campaign to hold events in the week of June 16th-23rd.

The Swifts Local Network, an association of more than 80 groups and individuals around the country is mobilising its members to hold Swift parties, Swift walks, Swift workshops, Swift displays, indeed any activity to get Swifts into the public consciousness.

We would also hope that some of this will brush off onto environmental consultants, local government planners and the building industry. Imagine a box or 2 in every new gable in the country.


Left: 2 Swift entrances and a bat box in a gable. Photo Judith Wakelam


Read more about 2018 UKSAW

You can find an event near you on this Google map

For further information, please contact Nick Brown/Peta Sams on swiftawarenessweek@gmail.com

Swifts Local Network if you are interested in helping to conserve swifts, do consider joining the Swifts Local Network by emailing swiftslocalnetwork@gmail.com

Swift. Photo: Roger Wyatt


Wild Food (37) – Pignut by Ian Carter

Pignuts are umbellifers (in the carrot family) and are like miniature versions of the more familiar Cow Parsley. To help confirm the identification, look closely at the finely divided leaves, especially those towards the base of the plant. If you grow your own carrots you may notice the similarity in leaf structure. In favoured meadows and woodland rides Pignuts can cover large areas, softening the landscape with their delicate white flower-heads.

This species was much loved by rural schoolchildren in the days when they were able to recognise useful wild flowers. It’s easy to imagine the pleasure they would have gained from rooting up the small edible tubers – especially in times when food was hard to come by and tended to be bland and repetitive.

It’s harder than you might think to locate the nut-like tubers, especially in heavy soil and if you are trying to do the job carefully so as to cause as little disturbance as possible.Ideally, you want to trace the stem of the plant down through the soil until you reach the ‘nut’ still attached to the plant. This helps to ensure that what you are about to eat is indeed a Pignut. The bulbs and tubers of other species, often found in close proximity, can look surprisingly similar and some are poisonous.

Once the Pignut tuber has been retrieved you can rub off the outer coating, which helpfully removes all the encrusting dirt,and eat it raw. The taste is not unlike that of Hazel nuts (a definite positive) with a slight aftertaste of celery (not so positive).

These plants were on one of Devon Wildlife Trust’s reserves so were not available for exploitation and it’s worth noting that landowner permission is needed before digging up any wild plant. The local Badgers are happy enough to ignore the rules and have rooted through large areas on this site to dig out the tubers. I’ve often noticed this Badger ‘damage’ locally and pondered its likely effects on the vegetation. As with all such impacts no doubt it is very good for some things but has a negative effect on others. Across a large site it must surely help to maintain a diversity of different types of vegetation. It certainly helps put in perspective the loss of the occasional plant due to human foraging.

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