I hope they sink (III)

This is the third blog on the subject of the Cambridge University Boat Club’s misguided plans to erect their new boathouse on a county wildlife site on the edge of Ely.


Today the Duke of Edinburgh visits Cambridge to be at the launch of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.  Prince Philip was the Chancellor of Cambridge University until a couple of years ago when Lord Sainsbury took over.

Prince Philip will be attending the launch of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.  Sir David Attenborough will also be attending.  No doubt there will be a lot of talk about Cambridge being a great centre for conservation knowledge – and n0-one can argue strongly against that.  But as with other organisations it is important to make sure that theory and practice are completely aligned and that’s where the plans of the Cambridge University Boat Club for a new boathouse (though it is much more than just a boathouse) might pop into people’s minds now and again.

Opposition to the University’s plans is strong and growing.  Not only are many Ely locals shocked by the impact that this large new development will have on their views and wildlife but there is widespread concern within the University too although you won’t find much of that concern reaching the public’s eyes or ears because the grip of the University is pretty strong.

Although there are voices raised against the boathouse plans within the University it is easier for independent voices to point out the damage that will be done by pushing ahead in an arrogant manner.  I’m grateful to the following people for putting their names to this letter (which the Sunday Telegraph did not publish).


We the undersigned want Oxford to win the Boat Race even though many of us are Cambridge residents or graduates. Why? Cambridge University Boat Club wishes to build a vast new boathouse in Ely. This will disturb a site valued for its rare and threatened wildlife – perhaps most notably otters and bitterns.  Objections have poured in from local people. The Wildlife Trust, Natural England, and the RSPB also oppose the plan. We want the Boat Club to withdraw its application. The University has won global recognition for its environmental research and teaching. We ask it to show environmental leadership at this crucial moment. If not, then Cambridge’s hard won reputation as a global centre for conservation risks being damaged. And we will cheer for the ‘dark side’ on Sunday.
Dr Mark Avery (naturalist and author)
Prof Andrew Balmford FRS (conservation scientist)
Craig Bennett (Director of Policy and Campaigns, Friends of the Earth)
Dr Nigel Collar (conservationist)
Brian Eversham (Chief Executive, Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust)
Prof Rhys Green (conservation scientist)
Martin Harper (Conservation Director, RSPB)
Tony Juniper (environmental campaigner)
Chris Packham (naturalist and broadcaster)
Matt Shardlow (Chief Executive, Buglife)
Dr Rosie Trevelyan (Tropical Biology Association)
Baroness Bryony Worthington (parliamentarian)
Sir Graham Wynne (environmentalist)
Baroness Barbara Young of Old Scone (parliamentarian)

All fools

By Visitor7 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Visitor7 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I have come to the end of March and not seen or heard a single spring migrant.  Amazing.

Did you notice that Oxford won the Boat Race – and I think I may have seen an otter holding on to the back of the Cambridge boat…

The editor of the Independent, Chris Blackhurst, writes a piece on the outgoing environment editor Michael McCarthy.  As you can see he borrows extensively from a blog on this site a month ago.  You read it here first.

Mike also tells it as it is in his valedictory article.

Look out for April fool tricks today – or poissons d’avril in French – but there aren’t any here.

The clock in the bathroom now tells the right time – maybe I will change it in October – but maybe I won’t!

Let’s hope April gets into the swing of spring very quickly.  Please.




Happy Easter

By HTO (own photo) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By HTO (own photo) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Birds’ eggs are very beautiful – there’s something about the perfect smooth oval shapes that is pleasing to the eye.

Personally, I’m hopeless at identifying bird eggs – I am almost clueless about what different species’ eggs look like.  This is very different from previous generations of birders and naturalists and conservationists, many of whom started as boy (rarely girl) egg collectors at a time when this was still legal.

I once wrote an article for The Field which pointed out that egg-collecting, twitching and indeed bird-ringing had similarities with field sports as these were competitive outdoor pursuits, involving collecting of trophies pursued mainly by blokes.

I can understand, to some extent, the attraction of egg-collecting.  Nest-finding is a skill that depends on good field craft and knowledge of the species (your prey).  I would struggle to get into a position where I could take the egg of, say, a golden oriole and so I can admire the skill of someone who could take such an egg without admiring in any way the fact that they have taken that egg.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there has been a proper academic study of convicted egg collectors, but if there is I haven’t seen it. I would love to know more about the backgrounds and lives of the men who steal birds’ eggs.  Are they married and do their marriages last? Are they employed and are they respected by their colleagues? Are they the best of men or the worst of men?

But please promise me that if you are egging today you will stick to chocolate Easter eggs.

By Lotus Head from Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa (sxc.hu) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Lotus Head from Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa (sxc.hu) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons




I hope they sink (II)


The Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust has really got stuck in to the Cambridge University Boat Club issue – see their website here.

A letter has been submitted to the Daily/Sunday Telegraph from prominent environmentalists asking the Cambridge University Boat Club to reconsider its position – if not published by Telegraph newspapers it will appear on this blog on Tuesday.

See also the BBC website, BBC Radio 4 World at One (16mins 15 secs into programme)an interview on ITV, this interview on the BBC Cambridgeshire local radio station (about 1hr 50mins in) and the Ely Weekly News.

Also this in the Daily Telegraph (you read it here first).

I’m very interested that the Boat Club were warned by the Wildlife Trust a year ago that this was a very sensitive site and yet decided to press ahead.  I wonder whether they liaised with Natural England too and what advice they may have been given by them…

Wildlife Trust Conservation Manager Martin Baker said: “The new Cambridge University boathouse could hardly have been proposed in a more sensitive location for wildlife along the Ely stretch of the River Great Ouse. We advised the University boat club last year that it was the wrong location for their new development, but unfortunately they have ignored us as well as other local opinion, and seem intent on putting the interests of one boat race a year ahead of valuing the local environment.”

Roger Buisson made a very interesting comment on Monday’s blog – the land in question was owned by us (or at least by the Environment Agency) up until July 2012.  What was EA thinking when it sold this land, knowing its ecological importance, to a developer whose intentions would undermine the ecological importance of the site?  ‘Environment’ Agency indeed?  What was the decison-making process that allowed a piece of land owned by ‘us’ to be sold to developers who would reduce the public value of that land? Did the ‘Environment’ Agency think about the environment or about the money?  We will come back to this issue.  [This raises a lot of issues about how nature would fare if EA gobbled up NE (as they clearly fancy doing) as part of the triennial review of Defra agencies].

The initial survey by The Ecology Consultancy doesn’t look bad and suggested that further work should be done to investigate whether there were otters using the area: ‘further surveys for water vole and otter are recommended’.  However, the further surveys, which took all of part of a single day (11 October 2012), found no evidence of otters being present.  I prefer to believe that Darrell Graham’s regular overnight visits to fish in the area (see Monday’s blog) give a more accurate view of otter activity which is that they are seen on every night.

Oxford are strong favourites to win the Boat Race tomorrow – hooray!



‘Protect creation’ says Pope Francis


presidencia.gov.ar [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

presidencia.gov.ar [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This blog asked some time ago whether the choice of the new Pope would have any environmental importance – and my hopes weren’t that high, to be honest.

Pope Francis mentioned the environment and the need to ‘protect creation’ in his first mass.  That’s a good start (see coverage here, here, here but particularly here).

This is a particularly welcome section: ‘Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world!’

Notice that in this short passage Pope Francis talks to decision-makers and also to all of us (assuming that the readers of this blog are men and women of goodwill).