Paul Leyland – Apollo

Paul writes: This is a butterfly I wouldn’t mind seeing in the UK, it just scrapes onto the British list as a very rare vagrant. It’s a mountain species that occurs in most of the larger mountain regions in Europe. Isolated populations in several of these areas have led to a lot of different races and variations so sometimes the red marking can be orange. I saw this one near the village of Gimmelwald in the Swiss Alps at an altitude of around 1300m in July last year. Conditions must have been perfect as I had a lot of sightings throughout the day. They are strong fliers but also land regularly on flowers, for a feed of nectar.

British records go back to 1803 when one was reported from Scotland. Records continued throughout the years but most were discounted as being specimens from introduced populations or just hearsay. The most convincing records all occur in years of large scale immigration of other butterfly species, on strong easterly winds. The last record occurred in 1986 at Loose in Kent.


Sunday quotes (11)

A series of quotes relevant to the environment and/or campaigning.

This week’s quote is from Henry David Thoreau (died 1862).

Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.

I was drawn to this quote after Erica McCalister’s guest blog on flies.

More on Thoreau here.


The General Licences

Have you ever read the General Licences?

Help yourself, here they are: GL04, GL05 and GL06. So the reasons why you might be able to kill birds under these licences are quite sensible. They include serious damage to crops and livestock. They include the prevention of disease. And they include the conservation of fauna and flora. And you have to be ‘satisfied that legal (including non-lethal) methods of resolving the problem are ineffective or impracticable’.

There are plenty of questions about the habitual and casual killing of some of these species. How about ‘How does gamekeeping fit in here?’ for starters? Here’s another one ‘What is serious damage?’, it presumably isn’t the same as ‘damage’. And how about ‘Can you shoot a Woodpigeon to eat it if it isn’t wrecking your crops, health or affecting public safety?’ ?

I have met many gamekeepers who have been killing Carrion Crows routinely and with huge enthusiasm and not one of them has ever mentioned the terms of the General Licences – I think they believe that these are pest lists and anything goes. But that clearly isn’t supposed to be the case.

Jay – 10,000 are killed in UK each year. Photo: Guy Shorrock.

So, how exactly does killing 10,000 Jays every year fit into the conditions set out in the General Licence? Loss of acorns?

Woodpigeon – 3.6 million are estimated to be killed under the General Licence. Photo: Tim Melling

It has been suggested to me that this species could be classified as a game bird. I guess it could – it would be the only one as far as I am aware not to have an open or close season. When should the open season for Woodpigeons start? And if all 3.6 million are being killed to prevent serious damage to crops, for example oil seed rape, then who is assessing that damage and surely that would limit the months of the year and counties of the UK where such killing could possibly take place?

I have few problems with Woodpigeons being shot for food but I don’t quite understand how that fits into the General Licences at the moment. And I’d rather have my pigeon breasts lead-free please – perhaps that could be a condition of any licence?

Ring-necked Parakeet in London. Photo: Tim Melling

So this is a non-native species (a bit like the Common Pheasant I guess). Who shoots or traps it at the moment? In what numbers? Under what conditions set out in the General Licences? Does anybody know? I’d be very surprised in Natural England, the government’s advisory agency on wildlife, have the faintest idea…

Carrion Crow – look at the sleekness and colour of that bird! Photo: Tim Melling.

100,000 Carrion Crows are apparently killed in the UK each year. I guess most of them are killed by gamekeepers (and farmers). How exactly does gamekeeping fit under the conditions set out in the General Licences?

The General Licences seem to have been used as a dumping ground for species that someone wants to kill for some reason in the hope that no-one will ever question their placement there.

Even if the General Licences are legal, and Wild Justice’s challenge to them is based on legal advice that they are not legal, then they are a complete mess.

It has been suggested to me that Natural England could regularise (sorry – ghastly word) the killing of these species so that it was legal and perhaps even more of them could be killed. I guess that is possible but how low are Natural England and Defra prepared to sink?

Wild Justice has gifted NE and Defra an opportunity to make things better. We notice that the piece in yesterday’s Guardian about our legal case includes quotes from NE saying they are going to review the licensing of bird killing in England. Woohoo! That is good news and no doubt had nothing to do with our legal challenge even though I cannot find a single person inside or outside NE who knew anything about this until our legal challenge was launched. So when I am told that NE could make things worse in response to the challenge from Wild Justice I have to wonder … quite simply … why would they do that? This is the body responsible for nature conservation in England, and they might choose to make things worse for nature when they have the opportunity to make things better?



How low might NE sink? Would the great Derek Ratcliffe have reacted in that way a mere three decades ago? We can be sure he would not? And I think we can be sure that Marian Spain and Tony Juniper will not either. Can’t we?

And if you would like to contribute to the Wild Justice ‘casual killing’ crowdfunder with over 600 other individuals then please follow this link.


Tim Melling – Lady Amherst’s Pheasant

Tim writes: Unlike released pheasants in the British countryside, wild pheasants are typically elusive and catching a glimpse of one in the open is difficult enough.  This was my first truly wild Lady Amherst’s Pheasant (or White-bellied Golden Pheasant as they call it in China), although I did see several in England during the period that they were resident and supposedly self-sustaining.  But the introduced English population has now dwindled to extinction, last seen in Bedfordshire in March 2015. 

In the wild, colourful males hold a harem of about twelve females, but this is an immature male, identified by the developing dark plumage on his face. 

They are very closely related to Golden Pheasant and the genus Chrysolophos means golden crest, which is not correct for this species.  Lady Sarah Amherst was the wife of the Governer General of Bengal, William Pitt Amherst, who sent the first specimen to London in 1828.  They have a restricted world range to the hills of southern China and the northernmost part of Myanmar. 

I photographed this young male at an elevation of c2500m at Labahe, Sichuan, China.  I did see one or two adult males but they typically bolted for cover immediately.


Wild Justice ‘Casual killing’ crowdfunder – first 24 hours

This screenshot was taken (at half time in Wales v Ireland) when the amount of money raised by Wild Justice to challenge the legality of the General Licences reached £14,400. Why was that significant? Because in the first 24 hours of this crowdfunder Wild Justice raised £10/minute every minute through the day and night on average.

That’s a phenomenal amount and should send a message to Natural England that they are on the wrong side of public opinion as well as on the wrong side of the law.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far. And here is the link to the crowdjustice crowdfunder to challenge casual killing of our wildlife.