Wild Travel

The latest edition of the 6-times-a-year Wild Travel is out now, with my column explaining how you and other animals can get through the winter.

But after reminding myself of what I wrote I always enjoy thumbing through the fantastic images and interesting words of the rest of the magazine.

There is a feature on wildlife in Canada with  polar bears at Churchill, grizzlies at Yellowknife and orcas off Vancouver Island – or why not go further north and see bowhead whales?

There is also a very good article by Kate Wilson on a subject close to my own heart – marine protected areas.  We are doing terribly around our own coasts and the article makes the very sound point that ‘the key to sustainable use of our seas is a network of protected areas over a range of habitats’.  And we need those protected areas to give real protection to marine wildlife – not be a green fig leaf.



I’m off to Bristol today (not exactly Canada is it?) to meet up with the folk from BBC Wildlife magazineand then on Thursday and Friday I’ll be in Stamford (even less Canada-like) at the New Networks for Nature event where I’m on a panel of ‘experts’ (see definition) discussing whether the British like nature. What might come up do you think – hen harriers, the National Trust and wildlife, ruddy ducks, badgers, foxes?




BASC and Countryside Alliance – the chocolate scare

You may remember that the Food Standards Agency recently updated its advice on eating game shot with lead.

And you may remember that BASC (see link) and the Countryside Alliance (see link) trotted out some outrageous nonsense about there being more lead in chocolate than in the meat of game that had been shot with lead (my blogs on this subject here, here).

I contacted the Chief Scientist of the Food Standards Agency through posting a comment on his blog (here is the link).

And here is the text of Dr Andrew Wadge’s response (and here is the link):

Don’t shoot your chocolate Santa

Thanks for your comments on lead-shot game, especially for bringing to my attention the claim that ‘pound-for-pound there is more lead in chocolate than game’. There is absolutely no justification for such a claim. The recent EFSA Scientific Opinion [http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/1570.pdf], which includes data submitted to EFSA by member states including the UK, makes clear that the mean levels for game are much higher than for chocolate.

In our risk assessment, the average values for lead were 0.195 mg/kg lead in wild deer and for game birds it was 1.87 mg/kg. This is 2 – 22 times the average levels of lead in chocolate and chocolate products (0.083 mg/kg; EFSA opinion on lead). Data from the paper by Pain et al. (referenced in the enquiry) were considered and included in the Agency’s risk assessment.

There is, of course, no need to eat lead-shot game, or chocolate for that matter, as part of a balanced diet. But you are far more likely to be harmed by the levels of saturated fat and sugars in chocolate than by its lead content – unless you prefer your chocolate Santa also to have been used for target practice.

That seems pretty clear although I suspect that BASC and the CA will need some encouragement to remove these untruths from their websites.  November is Game to Eat month where the Countryside Alliance promotes the value of eating game (not chocolate).  The Countryside Alliance is a registered charity, charity number 1121034.

Please help get the truth out there by sending a copy of this blog to your MP as they have all been ‘briefed’ on this subject by the Countryside Alliance.  Your MP’s contact details can be found by following this link.


Waging war

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

Today is Remembrance Sunday and this year it falls on the 11th day of the 11th month.  The Second World War was the deadliest conflict in human history but I was surprised to learn that the First World War was ‘only’ the sixth deadliest.

Are you wearing a poppy? It’s interesting that we use a natural object as our symbolic way of remembering all those deaths (and here is the link to the John McRae poem).

In the deadliest conflict on earth we killed our fellow man (and woman and child) at the rate of about 10 million people a year – or 27,000 people a day, or more than 1,000 every hour or around 16 each minute or one every 4 seconds and we kept it up for six years non-stop.

By The Illustrated Shooting and Dramatic News [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the early weeks of the First World War the passenger pigeon (yes, an enthusiasm of mine) went extinct.  This was quite possibly the commonest bird on Earth a matter of decades before its extinction with a possible population of as many as 9 billion birds.  We got rid of the passenger pigeon in a few decades, let’s say 50 years. That is a rate, maintained over 50 years, of 340 birds a minute or 6 every second for 50 years.

Our war on nature has been quite bloody.

I won’t say more about the passenger pigeon as I am currently writing a book on the subject which will emerge in 2014 in time to commemorate the centenary of this bird’s extinction.

But there are others interested in the passenger pigeon too and I commend this excellent website and this excellent Facebook page.



Ralph Underhill cartoon

Ralph Underhill, @RU_orangejam and http://orangejam.boldlight.co.uk/




Blue-blooded squirrels in Cornwall?

By Ray eye (Photograph by Ray eye) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Everyone likes red squirrels – I know I do.  And everyone would like to see red squirrels return to their widespread former distribution, even if that meant seeing the back of the non-native grey squirrel – I know I would.

I’ve said this before, and it momentarily caused a stir, ‘If I could click my fingers and all the grey squirrels in the country would disappear then I would ‘click!’ right now’.   But it is a little more complicated and difficult than that, isn’t it?

One of the apparently most promising red squirrel recovery projects has been on Anglesey where you would have thought that its island nature would provide an effective barrier to grey squirrel ingress -but this year I notice that 10 grey squirrels had been killed in the Menai Bridge/Beaumaris area – and others will have evaded capture.  And then in August this year there were reports of a virus killing red squirrels on Anglesey, where numbers had built up from around 40 in the late 1990s to over 500 this year.

It’s good news that some red squirrels have nipped over the Menai Straight from Anglesey to Gwynnedd but this also presumably means that infected red squirrels might make the journey in the other direction as might, and do, greys too.  Anglesey looked a very good bet for a project like this – and there has been success so far – but eventual success seems far from certain.  But, Good luck to them! is what I say.

I’d be less keen to put my money into the plan to reintroduce red squirrels into Cornwall, I think.  I happened to be down in Cornwall a few weeks ago failing to see choughs on the Lizard.  Although I didn’t see choughs as I walked the coast path I was slightly surprised to see a lot of grey squirrels.  I noticed them at the time in the woodlands and gardens but also saw several happily taking a stroll through the pastures too.  I rather got the impression that there were a lot of them about.

And yet the Cornwall Red Squirrel Project is hoping to establish a cordon sanitaire on the Lizard and another across the Land’s End peninsula.  This project has been advised, I see, by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and is supported by a wide variety of people including Prince Charles (Duke of Cornwall of course) and noted environmentalist Sir Jonathan Porrit (I think that might be Porritt), B (might that be Ben?) Goldsmith, R (might that be Robin?) Hanbury-Tenison and R (might that be another Robin?) Knox Johnston.  Another founder sponsor of the project is R (might that be Richard?) Benyon who is also a Defra minister.

A senior conservationist, who did not want to be named, described the project as ‘barking mad’ and ‘doomed to failure’.  No knighthood for him (for it was a he) if his identity leaks out – it won’t from me, though.