Wet plastic

By Saperaud [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve only recently, this year, become aware of some of the facts about plastic in the oceans.

Plastic Oceans is a good source of some information but here are some other  links too (here, here, here, here, here).

It’s sad to see that even the remote Southern Ocean has high levels of plastic, tiny pieces of plastic, floating around in it.

I wonder where that plastic bottle I used 30 years ago is now?  How much of it is in each of the world’s oceans?


Lead poisoning still killing lots of birds and FSA advice on human health impacts ‘delayed’.

A just-published study reveals that lead gunshot is still a threat to wild waterbirds in the UK, over a decade after the use of lead gunshot was banned in wetlands and for shooting wildfowl in England ( similar but slightly different legislation pertains elsewhere in the UK).

A gizzard with lead shot. Photo: Milton Friend

Waterfowl ingest spent lead shot whilst feeding.  Sometimes they may mistake the shot particles for seeds or small molluscs (after all – these ducks are feeding either underwater or by sticking their beaks into muddy sediments) or take them up ‘deliberately’ but mistaking them for grit particles which they store in their gizzards to aid the grinding of their food.  Some dead birds were found with hundreds of lead particles in their gizzards.

Lead is a poison, and elevated lead blood levels were found in 34% of over 250 waterbirds tested at four sites across the UK in the winter of 2010/11.  Lead poisoning caused 11.8% of waterfowl deaths (excluding infectious diseases) in the period after the lead shot ban compared with a higher figure of 20.8% in the preceding decade and 13.7% in an even earlier period.  Things might just be getting slightly better – but hardly at all and not with any certainty.

These results are unsurprising given that previous studies have shown shocking non-compliance with the law which bans lead shot being used to shoot wildfowl.

In contrast, the incidence of mortality from lead poisoning in mute swans (which used to be poisoned by fishermen’s angling weights) has fallen dramatically since the use of almost all lead weights was banned.

By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Also in contrast, in the USA, where millions of  waterfowl used to die from lead poisoning, this number is now much reduced thanks to effective legislation and enforcement.  Half a dozen years after the ban in the USA 68% of mallard contained no ingested lead shot.  That is quite an impressive turn-around.  This fact sheet  from the American Bird Conservancy is a very useful summary of the issue and the science – maybe UK nature conservationists should produce something equally clear and compelling?

After a decade there is still evidence from the UK of large numbers of deaths of waterbirds due to lead poisoning, non-compliance by hunters and a complete lack of willingness to engage with this issue.  Not surprisingly nature conservationists are getting a bit impatient.

Martin Spray, the Chief Executive of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust said:

Considering that the law currently isn’t protecting waterbirds in Britain the way it is meant to, the most practical and effective solution would appear to be to extend the restrictions on the use of lead shot to cover all shooting.

“Non-toxic alternatives are available and have been used successfully for years in countries such as Denmark. Spokespeople for the shooting community have always said that, when the evidence is forth coming, they will support practical proposals to address the threat to wildlife. We very much look forward to working with them.”

Professor Chris Perrins, LVO, FRS, Emeritus Fellow of the Edward Grey Institute at Oxford University, has been the Queen’s Warden of the Swans since 1993. His research into lead poisoning of mute swans built the case for the restrictions on the sale of lead angling weights. He said:

“I find it extraordinary that we are still using lead [for shooting]. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution dealt with lead in 1983. One of its recommendations was [to phase out] all lead shooting shot and all lead fishing weights. Yet here we are nearly 30 years on and we are still using them.”

And this blog revealed last week that the RSPB had changed to a position of wanting an outright ban on lead shot.

Now if there were a Food Standards Agency for Ducks it would be advising them to cut as much lead as possible out of their diets.  That’s actually what we have been doing too – removing it from petrol, paint, water pipes etc.

The FSA was expected to issue updated guidance this week on human lead intake as a result of recent improvements in our knowledge of the impacts of lead on our bodies and the ingestion rates of lead from different sources of food – but that update has been delayed.  It couldn’t be that the shooting community is putting on pressure to delay or weaken this advice, surely?

Rabbit meat. By Garitzko (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There is no doubt that game sold for human consumption can have high levels of lead that comes from the shot used to kill that game; there is no doubt that eating enough lead will do you harm (and see here).  But how many people might come into that affected category?  Not me, as I eat  few meals of lead-shot game a year (I’d happily eat more game if it were lead-free), and maybe not you, but I had an interesting ‘discussion’ last week with habituees of the National Gamekeepers Organisation’s Facebook page. One of them appeared to eat two pheasants a week in his sandwiches, another said he had two game meals a week and another said three game meals a week, and many fill their freezers with lead-shot game in season and live off it through the year.   This is enough to suggest high game intake rates for some sections of society and that will mean high lead intake rates too.

We need data on game intake rates to assess risks to people, and BASC is still sitting on data they collected several years ago.  The non-disclosure of these data is shocking and utterly reprehensible.

But selling game is big business. Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, TESCO and Sainsbury’s all sell game.  The Countryside Alliance promotes a ‘Game to Eat’ campaign that is noticeably silent about any adverse health risks of eating lead-shot game, particularly those for the most vulnerable, such as children.

These are some quotes from the Game-to-Eat webpage which bears the banner of the Countryside Alliance and its unconvincing claim to be the ‘Voice of the Countryside’:

‘A tasty and healthy alternative to Lamb, Chicken, Beef or Pork’

‘Game is wild, natural and free range with a distinctive flavour making it a great alternative to beef, pork, lamb and chicken. And, as it’s low in cholesterol and high in protein Game is one of the healthiest meats available today. For example, venison, with its brilliant taste and extra lean meat, is perfect for anyone on a low fat diet.’

‘Results from research commissioned by the Game-to-Eat campaign, suggest that there are real health benefits to eating game. Venison is high in rotein (sic), low in saturated fatty acids and contains higher levels of iron than any other red meat. Pheasant and partridge also contain a high level of iron, protein, vitamin B(6) and selenium, which helps to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.’

The evidence of wildlife problems and human health problems have grown over time – but the shooting organisations such as BASC and the GWCT, and the Countryside Alliance (who belong in a category of their own) have played little part in improving the evidence base and paid little heed to the evidence.  They have known about the evidence for years and have been updated as and when new facts became available.  Yet the response from the shooting community has been to remain almost completely silent on these issues except to attack those who have advanced the frontiers of knowledge.  With leadership like this the shooting community really doesn’t deserve any more time to get its act together on the issue of lead shot.  Shooters have had their chance and done nothing.  In fact they have obstructed moves that would reduce the exposure of people and wildlife to lead in the environment and denigrated those who have studied the subject and produced assessments of the problems (click here, here, here).

Use of lead shot should be banned throughout the UK now.


Kids stuff – pretty good too!

I went to a funeral earlier in the week and although the deceased was a close geographical acquaintance rather than a close emotional friend it was, as they often are, a moving experience.  When I came home I stood in the garden and thought a bit, and took this photograph of the last few flowers on the buddleia bush which has lasted into October.

I find that the natural world is where I go when I am happy or sad.  Is that what you do too?




But then I saw the results of the Childrens’ Eyes on Earth photographic competition.

Wow! these young people have a lot of talent.


Last Breath: Kseniya Saberzhanova, 13 years old, Russia, Public Vote Prize, Children’s Eyes on Earth 2012

This image was voted by you and me and lots of other people as their favourite.  And, actually, it is my favourite!

I think it’s because the fragility of the butterfly, and its orientation on the hard stony ground, with our plastic detritus in the background, is very powerful.






SOS: Anastasya Vorobko, 8 years old, Russia, First Prize Winner, Children’s Eyes on Earth 2012


The overall winner chosen by the judges.

Very atmospheric – a worthy winner.








Emergency Exit: Juan Carlos Canales, 14 years old, Spain, Second Prize Winner, Children’s Eyes on Earth 2012


Second Prize went to this striking image of two sacred ibis flying over an industrial skyscape.








Fields of Green: Bianca Stan, 14 years old, Romania, joint Third Prize Winner, Children’s Eyes on Earth 2012


Joint Third Prize – strange and very memorable.








Morning at Situ Gunung: Michael Theodric, 10 years old, Indonesia, joint Third Prize Winner, Children’s Eyes on Earth 2012


Joint Third Prize – utterly beautiful.  What a planet we inhabit!  Shall we try and keep it beautiful, please?








In The Wind: Sophie Vela, 14 years old, France, Special Prize, Children’s Eyes on Earth 2012


Special Prize Winner – how many goes did it take to capture this image? The answer is blowing in the wind?
















































Naturally curious

Reading the minutes of other people’s meetings is not my natural habitat or habit.  However, you never know what you might find.  The trouble is,  most minutes are written to hide rather than expose any interesting parts of the meetings they purport to summarise.

Phil Catterall [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What might we find out if we had the energy to read the minutes and papers from Natural England’s Board meetings? Well, you tell me for you are probably as likely as I to spot something juicy.  Here are three recent examples to get you going but you might find something much better.

Briefing paper on badger cull – it’s interesting that the areas suggested for culling were suggested by the farming community (para 2.4).   I hadn’t appreciated how much in charge they were.  But the whole paper is interesting.

Engagements of Chair of Natural England – you wouldn’t envy him the job would you? Simon Jenkins and lots of farmers! And the Red Squirrel Survival Trust (that wasn’t Prince Charles by any chance was it?).

Dedication of NE’s NNRs for open access – quite interesting, and I had missed this. Why are all NNRs (owned by NE) going to get open public access? Is it a good idea? How well will any appropriate assessments be done?  What are the motives behind this? I note that the Minister is content with this proposal (what a good delivery agency to ask!). It couldn’t be, could it, that this is in preparation for another move to sell off some public land and recognises that access was a sticking point for forestry?  Or could it be a move which would aid the merger of FC and NE? Some hope! What do you think it means – if anything.


Mown down – the Grasslands Trust

By Bluescan sv.wiki (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week’s news that the Grasslands Trust has gone into liquidation is sad to hear but it may only be the first and most public sign of the impact of the recession on our tangled bank of wildlife conservation organisations.

I know many of the Grasslands Trust’s staff personally, including their Chief Executive Lucy Cooper, and some of their trustees too, and I am saddened by this outcome.  Let us hope that as much as possible of the Grasslands Trust’s 10-year legacy of conservation work is protected and that their excellent staff find new roles in nature conservation.

The Grasslands Trust was, for we now have to talk of it in the past, a small charity with a turnover of about £350k pa and about a dozen staff.   About half of that £350k came from grants and so the spending of it was ‘restricted’ to the purposes for which the grants were given.  There are many small NGOs that are very dependent on grants, and it can be a rather hand-to-mouth and nerve-wracking existence.

The grants and voluntary donations that have been going to the Grasslands Trust are now, in theory, available for other wildlife NGOs to collar.  I say ‘in theory’ because who knows whether levels of donation from individuals and grant-giving bodies can be maintained in the current economic climate, there are plenty of non-wildlife causes that may be able to tap into those funds, and if there are people out there whose main interest is grassland conservation they may feel that they don’t have other good options for their charitable donations.

Different charities, of course, having different funding models.  Some are dependent on rich donors, and since the rich are always with us (and are not an endangered species under the current government) there are always opportunities there.  Some depend on us visiting their sites and spending our money with them (and it has been a poor summer, weather-wise, for those organisations).  Some depend on grants – and grant-giving bodies get their money from donations and/or interest on investments (which aren’t likely to be having the best of times these days).  Some have close collaborative relationships with (or are in hock to) statutory agencies whose budgets have been cut in government austerity measures. And all, to some extent, depend on our generosity.

Whether you give your money to a wildlife NGO will depend on many things – whether you like bats/bees/butterflies/bitterns/basking sharks/bluebells, whether you like the staff of the organisation, whether you are feeling flush with cash or pinched with debt, what you think you will get back from the organisation and from which side of the bed you emerged today. But you are investing too.  You are investing your money in nature conservation, and it’s wise to undertake due diligence in any investment.  Will your chosen wildlife NGO do a good job with your money and will they still be there in five years time?

The Charity Commission website is not a bad place to start. And here, just for interest, are some figures to show the range of incomes achieved by some wildlife conservation charities in recent years


By Agnico-Eagle (Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The National Trust £413m

RSPB   £122m

WWF- UK £58m

Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust £26m

BTO £4.6m

Butterfly Conservation £3.3m

Plantlife International £2.8m

Marine Conservation Society £2.2m

Bat Conservation Trust £1.49m

By Hephaestos at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation £938k

Buglife £680k

Froglife £625k

Pond Conservation £607k

Bumblebee Conservation Trust £293k

Badger Trust £120k