Wet Wales? I hope not

The Wales Coast Path opens officially today – 870 miles from Chester to Chepstow (and a very similar distance from Chepstow to Chester).  That’s quite a stretch isn’t it? And since you can walk Offa’s Dyke too, you could do a 1000+ mile walk around Wales if you really wanted – you could call it a ‘Walk on the Wales Side’.  I quite fancy it – 2 months stroll around the Principality? Maybe there’s a book in it.

To mark the opening there is going to be a Wales Coast Bird Race where any records from the Coastal Path, including out to sea and up to half a mile inland will count towards the total.  That’s quite fun.

You can guess how many the total will reach and send your guess via Twitter to @WCPBirds .  I’ve guessed 139 species because I think the weather might be a bit rubbish, but otherwise I guess the total would be higher.  Or have I gone too high – what do you think?

, via Wikimedia Commons”]Yesterday a bee-eater was seen at Great Orme, the wind is from the east and at this time of year anything is possible.

I wonder how many species RSPB nature reserves such as Conwy and Newport Wetlands will contribute?

In any case, I will be keeping an eye on progress on the Visit Wales blog and through Twitter.

There probably won’t be 264 species which is what Team Sapsucker managed in Texas last week equalling their own ‘world’ USA record of last year.  The day started with yellow-crowned night heron (it’s on my USA list) and ended just before the next midnight with purple gallinule (not on my list), with fire ants (not on my list) and a puncture (yep, had one of them in the USA) in between.


, from Wikimedia Commons”]

The same and different

A year ago, yesterday, I flew to the USA for a 6 week trip of a lifetime.

Yesterday, I drove to Cambridge.


A year ago, yesterday, the sun shone.

Yesterday it rained a  lot.


A year ago, yesterday, I saw lots of starlings in Washington DC.

Yesterday a single starling flew across the road as I travelled.


Yesterday I met Andy Clements for breakfast and a chat about cuckoos, Birdtrack, old Common Bird Census plots, mutual friends at Cornell, the RSPB and American warblers.

Yesterday I met an academic and we talked about habitat restoration, red-cockaded woodpeckers, writing books, cuckoos, deforestation, nightingales and psychology experiments.

Yesterday I met my son for lunch and he gave me a good idea.

A year on, and the Earth has regained the position it was in a year ago whereas I know I am both the same and different.


Wuthering Moors 14

My Freedom of Information requests which were posted on this blog on 2 April (for example, this one) should have been answered this week since they were electronically transmitted to Natural England and Defra on that day.  I followed up by posting letters to Defra and Natural England.

Yesterday, at 1637, I received an email from Natural England telling me that they needed another 20 working days to deal with my requests.  Their letter is posted below with my reply.

This feels to me, although I might be wrong, like delaying tactics.  First, I would be happy to receive any of the information I requested even if some of it will take a little longer.  Second, the nature of the request was not complex – it may be unwelcome but it is not complex.   I have asked for copies of documents that I know exist and will be in a filing cabinet somewhere, and I have asked for details of meetings between NE staff, Ministers and others.  That’s not complex.

And, for the record, I didn’t get a reply from Richard Bannister to this letter  – but then I didn’t really expect to get a reply and he is under no obligation to reply to random letters from people like me so I am not complaining.


Letter received from NE:


Dear Mr Avery

Environmental Information Regulations 2004 – Extension of time – Request no 1494

I am writing to advise you that the time limit for responding to your request for information under
the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, which we received on 02 April 2012 needs to be

The Regulations allow us 20 working days to respond to your request from the date of its receipt.
However, it is occasionally necessary to extend the 20 working day time limit for issuing a
response. In this case, I regret that we must extend the time limit for responding by a further 20
working days to 31 May 2012, because of the complex nature of the request, although we hope to
reply sooner.

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. As you may be aware, under the
legislation should you have any concerns with the service you have received in relation to your
request and wish to make a complaint or request a review of our decision, please contact me and
I’ll arrange for a colleague to conduct an internal review. Under Regulation 11(2) this needs to be
done no later than 40 working days after the date of this letter.

If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint, you may apply directly to the Information
Commissioner for a decision. Generally, the Commissioner cannot make a decision unless you
have exhausted the complaints procedure provided by Natural England. The Information
Commissioner can be contacted at: The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water
Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF. Telephone: 01625 545 700, www.ico.gov.uk.

Yours sincerely


Reply sent to NE:

Thank you for your email and attached letter of 2 May.

I’m not happy that at the last moment you tell me that you need more time to satisfy these requests.  I don’t agree with you that they are of a complex nature.  I am sure that you can provide some of the information that I have requested now and I would ask you to do that.  I made several separate requests for information and I do not think that you should delay answering any of them if you are having difficulties with just some of them. For example, I have asked for copies of documents – these documents certainly exist and 20 days is long enough for you to copy them and put them in the post or send them to me electronically.  Please do this at once.  If you cannot supply any of these documents then please let me know at once.

I do not accept that the details of emails, letters and meetings of civil servants, Ministers and NE staff are particularly complex and I am sure that good records are made of all such things.  I would be grateful if you could fulfill these FoI requests within 10 further working days, that is by the morning of Thursday 17 May, or let me know, now, if that will prove difficult.

Yours sincerely


Say hello to the cuckoo

It’s May, it’s raining and for the first time for many a year, perhaps ever, I haven’t seen a cuckoo in April.

, via Wikimedia Commons”]My Birdtrackrecords going back to 2005 show me that I have always seen a cuckoo by now. I went out in a fine spell on Monday thinking that I should hear a cuckoo but I didn’t , and I was cheered slightly by the fact that another local birder whom I met had yet to see or hear one too.

I think of myself as Birder No 3 at my local patch as Birders Nos 1 and 2 have been birding there much of their lives and still get down there more often than I do.  Birder No 2 told me that Birder No 1 had beaten both of us to cuckoo this year.

But the good news is that two BTO cuckoos, whom we have learned to call Lyster and Chris, have returned from their 10,000 miles round trip and are back’ home’.  Lyster got back to the Norfolk Broads on Monday and Chris snuck into Epping Forest on Tuesday morning.

I admire this project hugely – it combines the soap opera and the science.  By following these individuals we learn about the details of their lives and the general behaviour of their species.  Yes we knew that cuckoos went to Africa and then came back again – but we’ve never before been able to follow the details of their journey.

Great congratulations to all at the BTO for this amazing study.


And the winners and losers are…

The two polls for your favourite and least favourite UK wildlife NGOs are now closed.  Thank you for voting.

Across the two polls, over 2400 votes were cast: 1330 in the poll for the favourite organisation and 1085 in the poll for the least favourite.  This seems to show that despite a few voices saying that only praise will work, when it comes down to a secret ballot, 80% of people are just as keen to express their lack of enthusiasm as their enthusiasm.

Some argued that the list should have been even longer than the 14 organisations listed by me – it could have been two or three times as long but I wanted initially to have 10 organisations in the poll and found that I couldn’t bring myself to reduce the number below 14.  There is a plethora of wildlife conservation organisations around in the UK and the interested public are faced with a choice of where to put their money, volunteering time and emotional support.  Are there too many organisations out there – that’s a subject discussed in Chapter 16 of my book, Fighting for Birds – 25 years in nature conservation, which will be out in August? It’s a subject that you may want to comment on here too.

Do the results of more than a thousand people add up to anything at all anyway? That’s for you to judge but I think some interesting things come out of it.  My strong impression is that the readership of this blog is a strange mixture of wildlife conservation professionals,  keen amateurs and people who visit this site just to be amused or irritated.  I suppose I am saying that you are a slightly strange bunch of people but then you would be entirely entitled to say that it takes a slightly strange person’s website to attract such an audience.  You may be given a readership survey to complete over the coming weeks so that we can all know a little more about the readers of this blog.

There are at least (at least!) three ways of looking at these numbers.  First there is the performance on the traditional poll of which organisation do you like the most – the favourite wildlife NGO.  There are some interesting results here – not least the poor showing of some large organisations and the excellent performance of some smaller ones.

Then there is the performance on the second poll of least favourite organisation – again there are some surprising results here but there is also a very clear ‘winner’.

And lastly from me, there is some value I think in looking at the net favourite in polling terms – the organisation that has the most votes when its negative votes are removed from its positive ones.  That has some interesting things in it too.

So, here are the results;

1. Which of the following nature conservation organisations would you be happiest to see receive public support (1330 votes cast)?

Gold medal: RSPB 289 votes

Silver medal: The Wildlife Trusts 251 votes

Bronze medal: The Grasslands Trust 105 votes

and at the other end of the scale…

Cardboard medal: The National Trust and National Trust for Scotland 40 votes

Plastic medal: WWF UK 33 votes

Wooden spoon: BASC 30 votes



2. Which of the following nature conservation organisations would you be least happy to see receive public support (1085 votes cast)?

Butterfly Conservation 2 votes

Marine Conservation Society 4 votes

Bat Conservation Trust 7 votes

and at the other end of the scale…

RSPB 131 votes

GWCT 151 votes

BASC 506 votes


3. The performance of nature conservation organisations when negative votes (1085) are taken from positive votes (1330) to provide a net vote.

1. The Wildlife Trusts 223

2. The RSPB 158

3= Butterfly Conservation 95

3= The Grasslands Trust 95

5. Buglife 88

6. Marine Conservation Society 68

7. The Wildfowl and wetlands Trust 47

8. Plantlife 44

9. Bat Conservation Trust 39

10. The Woodland Trust 6

11. The National Trust and NTS -32

12. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust -53

13. WWF UK -57

14. BASC -476


I will come back to these results in this blog over the days and weeks ahead – but not all the time!  Here are a few thoughts for now.

Even if you have the word ‘conservation’ in your name, being associated with shooting of wildlife (BASC and GWCT) is unpopular with this readership.  These two organisations have mountains to climb to be recognised as conservation organisations by the wider conservation community – despite the examples of very good work that I know that both do in this field.  If either wants to be seen as a nature conservation organisation then they will have to think about how they get their messages across – but it is quite possible that they are entirely happy with their strong positioning on the edge of nature conservation rather than at the heart of it.  That’s for them to decide.

Some very large organisations did very badly – i don’t think there is any other way of putting it.  For WWF UK and th National Trust (and NTS) to receive so few positive votes and more negative votes is somewhat surprising. And the Woodland Trust only just scraped into positive territory too.  It may be that despite their admirable qualities these organisations are not seen as nature conservation organisations in their UK work.  That’s my guess – and it is not a million miles away from my view either.  Do they mind?  Are they doing fine with a different audience?

The Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB are the ‘Big 2’ of UK nature conservation.

But what do you think? I’ll be commenting more on these results after more thought over the next few weeks and days.  But do have your say now.