Quatorze et quinze juillet?

Ralph Underhill is on holiday.

It’s a good job that none of us is the least bit interested in football isn’t it?

When France win tomorrow maybe that nice M. Macron will announce that the quinze juillet will forever more be fused with the quatorze juillet to form a deux-jours holiday.

At least we (some of us east of Newport and south of Jedburgh) have won a world cup even if we have yet to have a proper revolution.


Now, don’t lose your rag over this, please.

That there is a link between lead exposure and violent crime has been known for quite a l0ng time, and is the subject of some quite extraordinary correlations between removal of lead from petrol and reduction in violent crime rates across the globe, backed up by plenty of studies that illuminate the potential causal links.

This has often led to quips about the impacts of lead exposure on the manners, social media utterances, and other character traits of shooters. It has been difficult not to take the micky.  It has certainly been a temptation which has been too great for some of our number over the years.

And it seems we were absolutely right. In a study published last week in a health journal the aggression shown by shooters was compared with that demonstrated by archers.  The study took place in South Africa. To be fair, the study looked at shooters who used target ranges (and archers who did the same) so they may not be directly transferrable to the windy uplands of the UK grouse moors – but then again, maybe they are.

Shooters and archers were well-matched in age, income etc (although archers stayed in education to a later stage).

Shooters had higher blood lead levels than archers – really quite a lot higher.  The more you shoot, the higher your blood lead levels.

Shooters were more aggressive, in all sorts of ways, than archers.

Shooters with higher blood lead levels had greater aggression overall (but only significantly when looking at ‘hostility’ rather than ‘verbal aggression’, ‘physical aggression’ or ‘anger’) than shooters with lower blood lead levels.

Don’t shout at me, I’m just reporting the results of the paper.


Northern Harriers

By Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren (Northern Harrier) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

It was, perhaps appropriately enough, soon after I passed through Bird City, Cheyenne County, Kansas that I saw my first Northern Harrier on my recent visit to the USA. After that they were an almost daily presence which made me think of Hen Harrier issues back home frequently.

Until recently this was regarded as a subspecies of the Hen Harrier but now it is regarded as a separate species, the Northern Harrier, Circus hudsonicus.  The two birds are very similar but, as the image above shows, the male Northern isn’t as clean-looking and striking a bird as our Hen Harrier. No wonder an American friend, on seeing a male Hen Harrier in Israel exclaimed, with real appreciation, that it was a ‘spanky bird’.

At the place where I stopped to watch the Northern Harrier I saw a couple of other birds typical of the prairie grasslands – Lark Bunting and Swainson’s Hawk.  To be fair, there wasn’t a blade of grass to be seen in the flat treeless High Plains – from horizon to horizon were planted fields of corn, cereals etc.  If Clint Eastwood were to ride through this landscape today it might provide a rather different backdrop to his exploits.

But these are the High Plains, although everything seems pretty flat as one rides west one gradually gains altitude. Here I’m at c3,500ft. And there’s hardly anyone around. In the US Census of 1880 Cheyenne Co had 37 souls living in it but a decade later there were 4,400 and in 1930, touching 7000. Since then there have been eight decades of depopulation and most folk live either in Wheeler or Bird City – the rest are farmers.

A very few miles further west and I am in Yuma Co, Colorado and I’ve gained an hour as I’ve passed from Central Time to Mountain Time.  Part of that hour is spent watching a male Northern Harrier high in the sky carrying food.  I can tell you he’s flying due south as the road, from which I look west, runs directly north/south.  I’m hoping to see a food pass as that must be what is going to happen but he travels at least a couple of miles, gradually losing height before disappearing beyond a barn and the southwest horizon and disappears. Never mind, there are some Prairie Dogs and Burrowing Owls to look at on the eastern side of the road.

By the time I get to Yuma, I’ve gained another 600 feet of altitude, seen many more Northern Harriers and had a quick look at the battlefield of Beecher Island (not much to see, but always something to think about at battlefields).

Northern Harriers are with me for much of my journey – in grasslands and wetlands, on the coasts and in the mountains, where there are people and where it seems there are only cattle, in wildlife refuges and in arable farmland.  Nobody is bothered by them and just about nobody bothers them, even in South Dakota whose State Bird is, bizarrely, the Pheasant. Back in the UK, where much of the landscape is given over to a wholly unsustainable and selfish private hobby of shooting birds for fun, people demonise these rodent catchers.  We should be ashamed of our dewilded uplands, devoid of their rightful wildlife.


Click here for a Tim Melling image of Northern Harrier.

By dfaulder (Northern Harrier) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons




Welcome Mr President

Green Day’s 2004 song, American Idiot, has hit the UK charts to coincide with Trump’s visit to the UK.  You may be surprised to hear, but maybe not, that I am quite a fan of Green Day.






Yorkshire kids need help

Please help to restore the language of nature to children across North and East Yorkshire.  Support this crowdfunder to get a copy of Lost Words into every primary school in North and East Yorkshire. This includes the schools closest to Spurn Point and those in the poorest parts of Hull; and the North York Moors which will be turning purple soon and the smelly seabird colonies of Bempton and Flamborough; and the constituencies of the former Brexit Bulldog, David Davis, and that of Labour’s Rachael Maskell.

I’m not entirely sure why I am sending my dosh, £30 in case you were wondering, from Northants to Yorkshire (yes, I am, I think it’s a very good cause) but I’m a bit surprised that Yorkshire folk haven’t done a bit better already. So come on tykes, put your money where your Yorkshire pride is and get natural words back into the heads of your school children (please).

One week to go and £1300 to raise.

Maybe Spurn Bird Observatory and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust might forget their differences and promise to match public donations to help reach this target?

Watch this video and then please give this crowdfunder your support – where support does mean cash.