Other reading

I’m going to point you in the direction of some other blogs – blogs that I like to read (although not necessarily agree with).

But first I’d like to point you back towards a few of my previous blogs and the comments that have accumulated on them.

Since I came back from the USA this blog has attracted over 8,000 unique visitors (according to Google Analytics).

Last week’s blogs attracted more visitors than any previous week with blogs on:

world population reaching 7 billion

FWAG’s expected demise – worth going back to this to see some very well informed comments from several people involved with FWAG

is there space for an edgy wildlife NGO? – see news of FoE’s work on nature in the comments

raptor poisoning – lots of good comments here too

gamekeepers and the Daily Telegraph being disingenuous – lots of good comments here too


But here is a selection of blogs for you to dip into (and then come back to me please!):

Martin Harper – the RSPB Conservation Director should be in your favourite’s list

Crex group – not many blogs but this one was quite funny really

Miles King from the Grassland Trust – I like his writing and his views but they are a bit intermittent

The best blog on the internet by someone called Avery? – my daughter’s excellent blog

Geoffrey Lean – even though it is the Daily Telegraph

Alan Tilmouth is very birdy – and that’s sometimes what I need – and some great images

Birdwatch blog

Birding Extremadura – an interesting blog from a lovely part of the world

Saving the spoon-billed sandpiper is a gripping blog of a brave and ambitious conservation project

The green living blog from environmental think tank green Alliance is very thoughtgful, though its environmental views rarely touch wildlife and nature

…and for anyone considering writing a blog then my book, Blogging for Nature, contains some good tips on how to get started and how to keep going, as well as a selection of blogs about nature and the politics that affect it from my RSPB days.

Coming soon, reviews of Blogging for Nature in British Birds and BBC Wildlife magazines.

A signed copy of Blogging for Nature would make a great Christmas present for that RSPB member for whom present-buying is always difficult.  Get in touch with me through mark@markavery.info to order signed copies at £11 to cover postage and packing within the UK.



Don’t fire-bomb the countryside tonight!

I like 5 November – although clearly the Catholic conspirators missed an opportunity to influence Parliament.  The failed Catesby plot allows us to celebrate with fireworks – and that’s what I’ll be doing this evening (probably after Strictly Come Dancing).

But a couple of years ago I was in Stratford upon Avon at this time and as well as fireworks I saw lots of Chinese or floating sky lanterns heading off in the sky.  They looked very very pretty but fire-bombing the countryside has to be wrong.  It is a novelty to be pretty much totally in agreement with the NFU ( see here, here, here and here) and CLA (see here, here, and here) on any subject but this is the one (it may be the only one).

In my local free newspaper- the Nene Valley News – there is some helpful advice on when you shouldn’t use these flaming things:

– when winds are greater than 5 miles an hour

– when there is any chance the fuel could drip on someone below

– when there are any buildings in the flight path

– when the flightpath has woods, haystacks or thatched roofs

– when there is an airport within 5 miles

– when the materials used could harm animals

– unless you are insured for any damage that you may cause.

This advice comes from the Northamptonshire Arson Task Force (I assume they are against arson rather than for it).

In the world of the Big Society where we pretend we trust everyone to be sensible and to do the right thing if they are asked you have to write guff like this rather than say ‘Just don’t do it!’ or, heaven forfend, to ban it.

As a manager for over 20 years I tried to restrict my absolute instructions to those cases where people really did have to do the right thing (hypothetical example – ‘Get out! The building’s on fire!’) and those trivial situations where someone had to make a decision and the danger was that the decision would take more time than it was worth (hypothetical example – ‘Shall we have black pens or blue pens?’)(and, no, I won’t allow former staff of mine to post comments to the contrary).

Floating firebombs seem to me to work at either end – the firebomber’s life is not going to be wrecked by having to stick to fireworks, sparklers and bonfires with no floating lanterns and the potential downside for the thatched cottage, crop or hay barn is very high.

Or let’s spice up 5 November by allowing children to throw stones anywhere they like provided they can’t see where they go.  Maybe we need the Army to fire off a few howitzers into our major cities?  Athletes should put the shot, throw the discus and hurl javelins after dark in built up areas.

I’m all for reconnecting our towns with our countryside but not through firebombing.

Do have a very nice, and safe, 5 November 2011.



Why do they do this?

The reaction from the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation to yesterday’s RSPB report on the numbers of poisonings of birds of prey was a bit predictable.

After making the arguable claim that gamekeeping is a ‘profession‘ the NGO makes the obligatory nod in the direction of upholding the law and then talks about the ‘surge’ in birds of prey numbers and pats its own members on the back for their ‘tolerance’ despite the ‘problems’ that birds of prey can cause. It then seeks to shift ground completely (very wise since it was standing on shaky ground) by saying that many less ‘photogenic’ birds are doing very well on moorland managed by gamekeepers.  No outright lies in any of that but it sounds very much to me like a ‘profession’ which is in denial over the harm that its members are doing, illegally, to our wildlife.

It’s stuff like this that makes it very difficult for me, and many others, to take seriously the repeated claims that there are just a few bad apples causing all these problems.  If there are so few bad apples then why don’t the many good apples say something like:  ‘We’re glad that the number of poisonings went down a bit last year but we agree with the RSPB and the police that there are far too many.  We’re a bit ashamed of ourselves really because we can’t seem to root out these illegal practices which give us all a bad name.  Please don’t think we are all ‘at it’ because we aren’t and we are just as angry about it as the RSPB and other wildlife conservationists.’?  The NGO didn’t really come very close to that did they?

If the ‘good apples’ are always sticking together with the ‘bad apples’ then how can you blame anyone for chucking out the whole barrel?

In an article in this month’s (November) issue of The Field (which doesn’t get even a mention on their website so I don’t really know why I’m plugging it) I wrote of being affected by being told that people like me should take greater care to differentiate between the good apples and the bad – and that is a perfectly fair point.  But something similar applies to the NGO and the shooting community.  The rottenness and the canker are amongst your peers – sort it out!

But Andy Richardson – an ex-gamekeeper with whom I spent some time back in August – posted a comment on this blog yesterday which said amongst other things ‘We know within reason who’s at it and credit where it’s due the Scottish Gamekeepers are now coming down on the tiny minority like a ton of bricks. The only way it will stop is when our side shun and black ball these “companies”. ‘.  Thank you and well done Andy!  We need to hear more of that sort of thing from those who shoot.  The more remarks like that come from the shooting community the more that conservationists can believe that there is hope to banish poisoning from our countryside and make it easier for nature conservationist and fieldsports to reach an easier relationship.

If the NGO would like a guest blog here on the subject of raptor persecution, to put their side of the case, or to clarify what their position is, then they are welcome to get in touch.


And almost as an afterthought:

The coverage of this ‘story’ in the Daily Telegraph makes interesting reading.  The raptor-hating (that’s the impression it gives me) Telegraph knows about photogenic species – on a story about dead birds of prey it uses a picture of a live curlew!  And I wonder whether the NGO did use the word ‘bias’ as does the Telegraph in paragraph 3?  ‘Bias’ isn’t in the NGO statement on their website and it isn’t in quotes.  Maybe the Telegraph spoke to the NGO and someone used that very word or maybe the Telegraph just thought they would strengthen what the NGO said a little bit.  And what did the RSPB do in paragraph 6?  Apparently they ‘admitted’ something whereas I expect they ‘said’ it – what’s to admit?  In the seventh paragraph ‘But Martin Harper…’, why ‘But’? What’s the ‘But’ for?  And see how the three paragraphs of the NGO response are given such prominence high up the piece, including the irrelevance of photogenicity (!), rather than the actual report on poisoning.  This story could be used in media courses as an object lesson (as well as an abject lesson) in subtle insinuation.

I prefer this coverage by the BBC.




Not very nice

If anyone out there is thinking of killing me, please choose something quick.

Whilst at the RSPB I had very few death threats (far fewer than my boss – goes with the territory) but they were mostly because of our position on ruddy ducks.  It is ironic, with the passage of time, that those who care passionately about animal rights are the ones most likely to threaten to kill you!  But they clearly were more nasty than really life-threatening.

On another occasion, I gave a talk to a wind energy conference and a friend of mine in the audience told me that he was sitting behind two men who were listening to my talk and soon after I had pointed out that large numbers of  recently discovered red-throated divers in the Thames Estuary might cause problems for windfarm development one man turned to the other and said ‘We ought to organise a car accident for this guy‘.

That was many years ago and I’m still here and the point of telling the story is that a bullet in the brain, a crashing blow with a blunt object or a high speed collision would all be preferable (though not in anyway welcome) to a slow lingering death by poison.

I have no idea whether a golden eagle’s or a red kite’s death from poisoning is as lingering and unpleasant as mine or yours would be but poison is the coward’s weapon.  Today the RSPB release a report on the ongoing, unpleasant use of poisons to kill wildlife.  It is often not known whether birds of prey are actually the intended targets for these poisons, though they probably often are, but they are the completely predictable victims.

The RSPB say ‘The RSPB Birdcrime 2010 report reveals there were 128 reports of illegal poisoning in the UK, and the early figures for this year suggest a similar pattern. In 2010, 20 red kites, 30 buzzards, two goshawks, eight peregrines, five golden eagles, one white-tailed eagle and one sparrowhawk were found poisoned in the UK. The RSPB believes that the number of recorded incidents is way below the actual number. ‘.

Not very nice at all.  And it’ll probably be just the same next year, and the next, and the next….




A recent tweet on Twitter from Mary Creagh MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Defra, said that Defra Minister Richard Benyon had described the relationship between nature charities and Defra as ‘edgy’.

The ‘really quite admirable’ Mr Benyon did use that phrase,  in a debate, when expressing his pleasure at having his report card scored by a group of NGOs as reported earlier on this blog.  How nice or nasty to be to politicians is a tricky thing for NGOs to get right.

Politicians are very sensitive (very very sensitive) about any sort of criticism and we British are all so polite that we don’t like to upset people.  No NGO would like to see Mr Benyon’s lip quivering because he’d been criticised by them.

But in fact, the nature NGOs are incredibly polite to, and understanding of, Defra. They always have been – or at least have been for many years – and maybe they always will be.  They tend to see Defra as being ‘their’ Department, with ‘their’ Ministers and they work collaboratively with the Department as much as they can.

And there is an element of vested interest involved.  Defra can influence, through EA and NE and their own budgets, the flows of money to NGOs and they can favour some NGOs over others in terms of access and publicity too.  There are many ways that government Departments can show favour to one NGO over another and make life easier or more difficult for any NGO and so everyone watches what they say – perhaps too much?

And it feels like Defra hasn’t got many friends in government and really needs a bit of a cuddle.  Defra gets bullied in the playground by the big boys – Osborne, Pickles and (bollocks) Maude, and the big boys wouldn’t behave like that if the leader of the gang, David Cameron, were solidly behind the Defra team. Even the other green Department, DECC, is rumoured to retain ambitions to swallow up Defra.

If anything, I believe there is a lack of edginess from the NGOs.  They are too nice to Defra and to Government as a whole.  Although that is too simplistic a way of putting it.  The existing NGOs are all playing their roles well but there is something missing – the edgy voice for nature.

There isn’t a voice saying  ‘This is hopeless. It’s not good enough at all.’  We don’t need all the existing nature NGOs to say that, but somebody should, because it’s true.  And it’s difficult for existing voices to say those things because they don’t want to upset Defra for a whole variety of reasons.

Nature in the UK is getting a raw deal from us – and government (current and previous in Westminster, and devolved parliaments elsewhere)  has to carry much of the responsibility for that.  More needs to be done to; make fishing sustainable so that nature in our seas thrives;  make farming more sustainable so that nature in the countryside thrives; ensure important sites  are protected so that threatened species are conserved; fast-track species recovery actions including reintroductions so that wildlife expands and increases; and back habitat creation projects to put nature back in our lives.  Somebody has to say it and say it in a convincing way so that it creates the impetus for government to move and to be influenced by its friendly NGO partners.

That strong voice no longer comes, publicly at least, from organisations such as NE since this government chose to silence them and other independent voices such as the RCEP and SDC. Nature does abhor a vacuum and there is a lack of an outspoken voice for nature.