Four marks out of 320 for grouse moor managers

The RSPB report today that 2011 saw only four successful pairs of hen harriers in England.

There should be around 320 pairs of hen harriers in the English uplands.

This is a clear failure of the UK (predominantly English) government to implement the EU Birds Directive.  Article 1.1 of the Directive makes clear that it applies to all native species.  Article 1.2 of the Directive makes it clear that the Directive applies to the birds, their eggs, nests and habitats.  Article 2.1 requires Member States to maintain the population of species at levels which correspond to ecological, scientific and cultural requirements.  What might that mean I wonder?

Well, my cultural requirements are that there are a lot more hen harriers in England because I like them, they are part of my cultural heritage, I want to see them,  I want to enjoy them and I gain great satisfaction from knowing that they are there, being beautiful, even if I don’t see them.

But don’t just take my word for it, government has already decided that the English uplands are important for hen harriers – the hen harrier is one of the reasons why large areas of upland England are designated as Special Protection Areas under the same Birds Directive.  The following two sites were designated partly on the basis of their hen harrier populations in the 1990s: Bowland Fells (8 pairs of hen harriers), North Pennine Moors (11 pairs of hen harriers).

Government figures suggest that the English hen harrier population inside and outside of SPAs should be over 300 pairs and so the English Government is failing under Article 5 of the Directive to take the requisite measures to establish a general system of protection for all species of birds referred to in Article 1, prohibiting in particular:
(a) deliberate killing or capture by any method; (b) deliberate destruction of, or damage to, their nests and eggs
or removal of their nests;  (d) deliberate disturbance of these birds particularly during the
period of breeding and rearing, in so far as disturbance would be significant having regard to the objectives of this Directive. Unless of course, it is meant that it’s OK to set up a general system of protection but you don’t have to enforce it or implement it even when a protected species is close to national extinction.

Article 4 of the Directive refers to species, like the glorious hen harrier, on Annex 1 of the Directive which require special measures to be taken as follows: The species mentioned in Annex I shall be the subject of special conservation measures concerning their habitat in order to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution. In this connection, account shall be taken of: (a) species in danger of extinction; (c) species considered rare because of small populations or restricted local distribution.  Well the hen  harrier is in danger of extinction in England and is considered rare and restricted and so special measures should be taken within its habitat to stop people bumping it off.

Generally the hen harrier has been selected in the Directive as one of the species requiring special measures and SPAs have been identified to help to protect it.  Those SPAs are failing the hen harrier because people are bumping them off despite the general system of paper protection given to this and other species.  The English government has signed up to the Directive, it has recognised some areas as being important for hen harriers and yet it has not made the site protection or legal protection measures work well enough even to maintain the hen harrier at its very low levels when the sites were designated and there now exists evidence to show that the hen harrier population in England should be over 300 pairs.

I give the Government four marks out of 320 for their abject failure in implementing the Birds Directive to protect the hen harrier.

One small step that hen harrier lovers everywhere could make would be to sign this epetition asking the English Government to dop what Scotland has already done and create an offence of vicarious liability for employers whose employees break the law which is supposed to protect birds of prey like the hen harrier.


A butterfly’s wing

December isn’t a great month for butterflies (but then November wasn’t a great month for nature as a whole), although, of course, they are all (apart from the painted ladies and red admirals) still out there as eggs or pupae or some other clever way of getting through the winter if you really want to live on nectar.

Butterfly Conservation (a really excellent organisation with fantastic staff) has issued a report on the state of UK butterflies for the last decade.

Its messages mirror, in most ways, the messages that come out of similar reports on birds or any other taxon.  Many species are in decline (three quarters of butterflies), including many species which were once very common (the small tortoiseshell is a good example – the skylark of the butterfly world?) but where targetted conservation action is taken, then species can recover very rapidly and impressively.  The return of the large blue butterfly is a story at least as impressive as the recovery of the bittern.

Broad-brush habitat measures don’t work so well for many species, so measures such as the Higher Level Stewardship scheme in England are good value for money.  And Butterfly Conservation would endorse Plantlife’s recent report on the importance of management in woodlands – not just for the plants but for woodland butterflies too.

And if you cut the money going into nature conservation, or spend it wrongly, then you will see more and more species declining when they could be recovering.   Please note George Osborne!  The Chancellor’s cuts to Defra, passed on to Natural England, and passed on to Butterfly Conservation will prejudice the chances of the UK meeting the commitment it made in Nagoya, Japan, only a little more than a year ago to  halt biodiversity loss.

Added to which there are the signs of climate change in the northward spread of some species.

Many of the data that tell this important, but mostly sorry, tale were collected by volunteer enthusiasts in a ‘Big Society’ sort of way.

The messages are strikingly familiar to a bird-guy even though there are one or two butterfly species I would struggle to identify – we know the causes of decline, we can reverse those declines with good will and spending existing resources more cleverly.  Will this message fall on deaf ears in the Coalition Government?

More on this when I have read the report more fully.



This is the season when, as I drive around east Northants, a small flock of large thrushes will fly out of the roadside trees or be looking for worms in the grass fields.  They are chunky and have patches of grey on their heads and backs – and are fieldfares.  These thrushes come to see us in the winter, and are often found in mixed flocks with the other winter-arriving thrush, the redwing.

As an undergraduate, I visited southern Norway and saw these birds on their breeding grounds.  On the Hardangervidda plateau they nested in loose colonies.  In this mostly treeless landscape their nests were on man-made structures such as bridges or atop boulders.  Fieldfares don’t act in a very friendly way when you are close to their nests – they dive bomb you and call their harsh ‘chak’ calls.  And there is some bombing involved as they aim to splatter you with their faeces – and,as I remember it, they are pretty good at aiming their bombs.  Maybe we should call fieldfares the Stuka pilots of the bird world?

But I am grateful to occasional reader of this blog, Professor David Norman, for pointing out to me that fieldfares already have a range of interesting and appropriate names.

In Swedish it is birch thrush (Bjorktrast) and also in old German (Birkendrossel), whereas in German it is juniper thrush (Wacholderdrossel) and in Russian the rowan thrush (drosd-ryabinnik).   In Greenland it’s the orpingmiutarssuaq (big bird of the willow scrub) whereas in Danish it is field thrush (Fjeldtrost) and field traveller in Anglo-Saxon (feldefare).

The Norwegian is gratrost (grey thrush) and another old German word is Blauzeimer (blue back).

For its call, in Luxembourg it is Jhackert, claque in Normandy and tordella gazzina (chattering magpie-thrush) colloquially in Italian.

As one of Professor Norman’s favourite birds, he thinks all of these names are trumped by the Spanish: zorzal real – the royal thrush.


Use them!

On one of the last day’s of my trip to the USA I watched a killdeer calling in alarm as a man, unwittingly I think, disturbed the bird from its chicks.  The bird’s cries cut through the mist of the June Gloom on the California coast – I won’t forget the sound of them as I watched from a bridge.  The man was unaware of the bird’s distress and nature’s pain was not heard.

This government has abandoned any pretence of caring for the environment – it isn’t listening to killdeers or skylarks or nature as a whole.  Chancellors don’t often mention the environment (Gordon Brown practically never did) and when they do it’s usually to say something woolly and nice about it that they don’t really mean, so for George Osborne to lash out at it means that something is afoot.  It may be that Osborne, in positioning himself for a leadership bid in the fullness of time, sees the bear-like Boris as his main contender, and not being able to out-nice Boris he has decided to out-nasty him.  It seems to come easily to the Chancellor as his obvious contempt for social and environmental targets looked heart-felt rather than staged.  Osborne may feel that at times of hardship it is the tough leaders that are chosen and that therefore picking on public servants and wildlife show his determination to be a great leader.

Osborne isn’t stupid, whatever else he might be, and he can’t really believe that the nature directives are holding back the UK economy to any important extent – or can he?  If he only mixes with ‘leaders’ of industry then he will have experienced the drip, drip poison of moaning from the ports industry, the  aviation industry, the wind energy industry, the building industry, the transport infrastructure industry and others about the red tape and gold plating of the directives.  Maybe Mr Osborne should get out more and hear some other and better-informed views.  Ask the tourist industry what it wants and ask the voters what they want.

I wrote last week that, if anything, we have all been too reticent about using the nature directives to their full extent.  there has been a fear that if we use them then government might turn around and try to water them down – well, they have turned around to water them down so that consideration no longer applies.

And so I followed up by getting in touch with the EU about how to make a complaint about the UK government’s non-compliance with the Birds Directive and Habitats Directive.  I spoke to a very nice lady on the UK desk who seemed a little surprised to be having this conversation but confirmed that any EU citizen can launch a complaint.  So I think that’s what I shall do – and so could you too.

The nice lady told me that I should inform my government what I am doing so ‘Hello Defra!  I am going to complain about UK non-compliance with the nature directives!’.

She also told me that I should liaise with anyone else making complaints but she couldn’t tell me who they might be so if there is anyone out there who wants to compare notes then please get in touch.

And, she sent me a form, which she told me is not obligatory, which I attach to the bottom of this blog – there’s always a form isn’t there?

My grounds for complaint will be as sketched out last week in this blog.  The UK has not implemented Article 2 of the Birds Directive as it has not taken ‘the requisite measures to maintain the populations of the species referred to in Article 1 [‘all species of naturally occurring birds’]’.  Most of the action regarding the Birds Directive has been around protected areas but the Directive is quite clear that it covers much more than that as Article 3.2 makes clear when it talks about the management of areas inside and outside of protected areas.

I will be looking at three main areas as a basis for a complaint:

– the continuing decline of farmland birds at a rate greater than that in most EU countries

– the loss of hen harriers from the English uplands due to illegal persecution despite the designation of Special Protection Areas for their conservation


– the failure to designate a network of marine protected areas

If anyone, anywhere, wants to join in, help or comment then please do, either publicly or privately.  And if there is a legal practice out there which wishes to do some pro-bono work for the natural environment then please do get in touch.

I’ll be looking at the Habitats Directive too – but let’s start with the Birds Directive.

There is nothing, of course, to prevent all of you and far more people making similar complaints – if you are interested then please do get in touch.  Maybe we could make this a people’s complaint rather than my complaint.



For the Commission
Member State:

(For Site Related Aspects of Nature Conservation issues)

I would be grateful if you would complete this request for supplementary information. The purpose of this request is to help the Commission to more fully and accurately identify and evaluate the essential site-based nature conservation issues raised by your letter.
The provision of the requested information may be decisive for a proper handling of the environmental issue brought to the attention of the Commission, and, where appropriate, the making of representations to the national authorities.
I look forward to hearing from you within the next month.

Contact person:                Tel.            E-mail

Member States concerned:

Regions concerned :

1) Does the case have any direct link to Community nature conservation legislation?

Yes             No 

2) If yes to which directive ?
79/409  (the Birds Directive)
92/43  (the Habitats Directive)
Or which other legislation ?

3) Give a clear description of the subject of the environmental issue brought to the attention of the Commission (max. 1/2 page)

Have you already contacted the responsible administrative authorities of your Member
State concerning your case
 No    Please explain why you have not contacted your national authorities before addressing                            the European Commission :
 Yes    Which one :

Answer / Results in brief

Please add if possible copies of the correspondence.

Have national court proceedings addressing the matter been commenced or are they envisaged?

 No
 Yes    Please give details:

Please add copies of court pleadings if possible

5.1. Are you aware if any EC financing is directly involved (e.g. structural funds, Life, etc.) :
Yes   No 

5.2. If yes please give details :

6) Location


Name of Site(s):………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Next big city close by : ………………………………………

Surface area (ha) : ……………………………………….

Special Protection Area1 :   Yes    No      Name :

Proposed site of community importance2 : Yes    No      NATURA 2000 Code : ……………………..

Is the area already under national protection   No   Yes : ………………………………………………………
(which one)

Scientific description :



The map should show the location of the plan /project referred to in your letter, and, if known, the boundaries of any designated or proposed nature conservation site (e.g. special protection area under Directive 79/409/EEC (wild birds)or proposed site on national list under Directive 92/43/EEC (habitats)).

Colours and symbols are  helpful means of clearly indicating and describing key information such as site boundaries and the location of any plan or project.

A clear legend giving the scale and explaining any colours or symbols used is also helpful.

    Maps can be presented on a format larger than A4, if necessary.


* :        Tick if the habitat type is a priority one according to Annex I of the Habitats Directive
Code :    Refer to the Habitats Directive
Name :    Name of the habitat type according to the Habitats Directive

*    Code    Name    Surface area for the site

Comments (conservation status if known, significant effects of the plan/project,                               bibliographic references used)


G :        GROUP: M=Mammals, A=Amphibians, R=Reptiles, F= Fish, I=Invertebrates, P=Plants

* :        Tick if the species is a priority one according to Annex II of the Habitats Directive


Comments (conservation status if known, significant effects of the plan/project,                       bibliographic references used)





COMMENTS (conservation status if known, significant effects of the plan/project,                                 bibliographic references used)


10.1 The plan project has already been approved by the competent authorities :
Yes             No  

10.2  If yes, by which act ?

10.3  and which authority ?

10.4  If the plan or project has not yet been approved, please indicate the administrative                                procedure being followed and the stage reached:

11.1 Has any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or environmental impact study
been done or is one in progress?                  Yes         No  

11.2. If yes, give a brief description of its results (max. 1/2 page)

12) a) Describe any alternative solution(s) to the plan or project which have been considered by the authorities (indicate on the maps if relevant)
(max. 1/2 page)

b)  Describe any other alternative solution(s) to the plan or project which you believe are feasible and which have not been considered by the national authorities (indicate on the maps if relevant) (max.1/2 page)

13) a) Describe any mitigation measures which have been proposed or considered by the national authorities (indicate in the maps if relevant)
(max. 1/2 page)

b)    Describe any mitigation measures which you consider feasible and which have not been considered or proposed by the national authorities (max.1/2 page)

14) a)  Describe any compensatory measures for nature conservation damage caused by the plan or project which have been proposed or considered by the national authorities (indicate in the maps if relevant)
(max 1/2 page)

b)  Describe any compensatory measures which you believe are feasible and which have not been considered or proposed by the national authorities (indicate on the maps if relevant) (max.1/2 page)

15) Other information (max. 1/2 page).  Copies of relevant studies and publications may be annexed.

Place    Signature



Various again

I went out for a walk on 1 December – it’s one of the things I can do now I am self-employed.  There were fresh worm casts on the lawn and quite a lot of insects in the air – it hardly felt like December.  At my local patch of Stanwick Lakes there were golden plovers flying overhead – the species that means that the Nene Valley Wetlands are covered by the EU Birds Directive and which mean that my local walk is protected from being concreted over.

I enjoyed being part of Simon Barnes’s blog tour on Thursday – here are links to the other sites where his book was reviewed (here, here, here and here).  And remember that there is a readers’ offer for you to take up.

Another plug – I started reading my daughter’s blog because it was the right thing for a Dad to do, but now I read it because it’s very good.

See my blog tomorrow for a bit more on the Black Chancellor, Mr Osborne, but also on something that I am doing to stand up for nature – and you could perhaps help.

Farmers are a funny lot aren’t they?  I was really touched by the comment left by farmer ‘cowboy’ on Friday’s blog (thank you again) but on Twitter where you can find me as @MarkAvery I was accused of being anti-farmer.  When challenged to point out any anti-farmer remark in this blog the accuser scuttled away in silence.  Another (apparent) farmer on Twitter cleverly combined two wrong thoughts in 140 characters by saying that there were plenty of birds but they were being eaten by kites and buzzards.  And yet another farmer, as well as agriculture journalist Johann Tasker,  suggested we look to Africa for the causes of farmland bird declines before I pointed out that 16 of the 19 Farmland Bird Index species were UK residents.  Don’t expect much real ecological knowledge from the farming community – some know their birds but many do not (just like any other industry really).

Many thanks to Ian Coghill from the GWCT for his guest blog last week – it attracted lots of interesting comments. Anyone out there who would like to offer a guest blog?  I have some future slots in mind.

I notice that there are a few people buying Blogging for Nature as Christmas presents for their nearest and dearest – you cheapskates!  It costs under a tenner plus some P&P.  But I won’t tell them that their fantastic present was so cheap.  Blogging for Nature contains lots of articles written from May 2009 to April 2011 so it is still relevant to current events.  It gives you a unique insight into the conservation work of the RSPB through its Conservation Director (at the time).

Yesterday there was a red kite flying over my street – lovely gorgeous bird.

I signed a book contract this week – I’ll keep you posted but you should be able to purchase at the Bird Fair in August.

If you haven’t, then please do sign up to this epetition on vicarious liability. Will yours be the signature that takes it past 3000 on its way to 100,000? And please spread the word.

This blog had its most popular month yet – we only started in earnest in July – with 3768 unique visitors in November.  The most read blogs were about Robin Page, Peter Kendall and George Osborne – the perfect dinner party guests?