Bird Fair Day 2 – time to buy for Christmas

You’d have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a handsome prince at the Bird Fair – maybe Nick Baker?

Phew! What a scorcher! I mean, of course, the weather although these four ladies from Froglife, who’d like to collect your wildlife memories, might get a similar response.  In a sea of blokes (yes, like me), in jeans (yes, like me), it’s nice to see some people have made the effort!








Do ask the ‘tabloid twitcher’ about Friday night

Surely Stuart Winter didn’t mean to spend Friday night like that?  Like what? you might ask.  Ask him…













Don’t worry – you’ll be fine!

The perils of buying a holiday at the Bird Fair?  Surely not…













By little blue hen (Flickr: blood orange upside-down cake) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Not – as far as I know – Victoria’s actual work

Victoria Chester is giving baking tips on the Plantlife stand.  Seriously, she is.  Victoria is starring in the Great British Bake Off .

Ask also about verge-cutting and why plants are better than birds.








Bird Brain of Britain result: speaking, rather immodestly, as a past winner of the Bird Brain of Britain competition, and its great crested grebe trophy, I take great delight in watching the competition as I know how stressful the whole thing is.  Yes, it’s just a bit of fun, but anyone taking part has stuck their neck out a bit.  Throwing Christians to the lions was more fun for the lions and the audience than it was for the Christians – even those who survived.

This year the brave four, facing the questions from John Humphrys (who looked very much like Mike Dilger to me (of whom more later)), were Mike Blair of OSME, John Clark of the African Bird Club, Andy Clements of the BTO and Grahame Madge of the Oriental Bird Club.

John Clark won with 19 points with Clements and Madge on 18 points and Blair on 15 – a damn close run thing, but no blood spilled.  Many congratulations to all – especially, of course, to John.  But as regular readers of this blog may have come to expect, I take a slightly different view of affairs.  It may be because of my experience (see Chapter 14 of Fighting for Birds) but I rate the performance on the general knowledge round as the true test of the cultured birder and that would put the order as Clements (10), Madge (8) and Blair and Clark equal third (6).

Everyone is a winner – including a delighted, although rather sweaty, audience – and who won most is a matter of conjecture.

Tracy’s Christmas present: I was doing a book signing on the NHBS stand (yes, it’s going quite well, thank you) and I saw Tracy eyeing up my book – did I mention my book?  Fighting for Birds?  I wasn’t sure.  Well, I thought that Tracy was eyeing it up but maybe I was wrong, and I asked her to flick through my pages, which she did, but then put me down as being too expensive for a poor PhD student like herself.  Oh well, can’t win them all, I thought.

But then, this really nice bloke, whose name I do not know but is Tracy’s husband, said to her that he could see she really wanted my book and he’d buy her it for her Christmas present.  So there is one copy of Fighting for Birds which has Happy Christmas! written in it so far.  Tracy – you have a diamond geezer, there!

And I think this should set a trend.  Why isn’t everyone buying their wives, husbands, lovers, friends, relatives Fighting for Birds as a Christmas present – why wait for Christmas – grab it now, while you can (please?)?

Mike Dilger – he is a very nice bloke isn’t he? He was sitting next to me on the Wildsounds stand before he went off to do his excellent job of compering the Bird Brain of Britain competition – and he bought a copy of my book. What a great guy!

If you would like to get a signed copy of my book then this is where to find me at the Bird Fair today:

Marquee 3, Subbuteo, 11-12

Marquee 3, Wildsounds, 12-1

Marquee 2, NHBS, 1-2


Bird Fair day 1 and bits and pieces

Bird Fair:  I met some really nice people yesterday and some of them were buying my book Fighting for Birds.  Lots of Twittery and Bloggy people introduced themselves and it is really nice to put a face to a Twitter name. For example, it was nice to meet @ValGall and even nicer to read on her twitter account: Sitting having lunch & being quite antisocial-head buried in Fighting for Birds! Enjoying already-many thanks  No! Thank you, Val!

At 1055 yesterday I had never done a book-signing but by 1600 I had done four – proving that I can write my name, quite competently, unaided.  Gongfarmer, who comments here, actually bought two copies – I need more people like that!

And I met some lovely young people who want to get into nature conservation and were seeking advice.  If you read Chapter 1 of Fighting for Birds you will see that my entry into the RSPB was by a rather unusual route, not easily emulated by others, so I was a bit stumped to give advice.  But stick at it!  Maybe I ought to write a blog about it one day?

There was the couple from Lancashire who seemed to agree with almost everything I think – sometimes going a bit farther even than I do. They were just an example of the feeling of kindred spirits that seemed to permeate the sticky marquees smelling of trampled grass.

Sometimes it rained, sometimes the sun shone, the chiffchaff that was always at the entrance last year seems to have moved on and I hardly saw a bird all day.

What will today bring, I wonder?  This is where you can find me:


Marquee 3, Subbuteo, 11-12

Marquee 2, NHBS, 2-3

Marquee 3, Wildsounds, 3-4

Magnus Linklater:  thank you for your comments on yesterday’s blog which was about this piece in Sunday’s Observer.  You should also read George Monbiot’s blog on the subject.  I gather quite a few Guardian journalists feel pretty embarrassed about this episode.  The editor of the Observer magazine in which Linklater’s ‘journalism’ appeared is Ruaridh Nicoll who writes too.

Will we get a well-penned series of comments defending Linklater? Not so far!  Maybe Magnus would like a Guest Blog here? He’d be very welcome.





The raptor haters? – Magnus Linklater

Magnus Linklater is a clever man as befits some Old Etonians and some former editors of The Scotsman newspaper.  I’ve only met him once and we got on quite well as we looked at the heather moors of the Langholm Estate one sunny day.

He wouldn’t deserve a place in this occasional series of articles, about those who appear to be less than full admirers of the magnificence of golden eagles, hen harriers, sparrowhawks and the like, just because he owns and manages a grouse moor (or is that his wife’s really?) as we all know that grouse moor managers and owners are divided on the merits of the hen harrier – not very equally divided, but divided all the same.  Magnus may, for all I know, be a great admirer of the talon-equipped raptors.

His article in the Scottish edition of the Times in 2007 entitled ‘All right eagles shouldn’t be poisoned. But...’ would be a strong contender for entry to this series on its own, and he has penned other articles which aren’t exactly gushingly in favour of the mighty eagles and falcons of the world (here, here).  I think he deserves his place – what do you think?

In his latest article, the claws are out for the RSPB in a kind of lazy, clever way.  His article, in the Observer, timed, provocatively you might think, to coincide with the ‘not very glorious 12th’ starts with a description of the AGM of the RSPB.  It’s quite a good description but I’m not sure it is a first-hand description as I didn’t see Magnus there last year.  Maybe I missed him, or maybe his account is based on that of a mate and padded out with information gleaned from the RSPB’s Annual report.

Magnus’s article is full of remarks like: the RSPB has incurred the hostility of farmers, landowners and even the rural communities among whom it works‘, ‘Landowners and farmers claim that there is something odd about the RSPB’s very public campaigns’, ‘Landowners and farmers, who find themselves on the receiving end of hostile publicity, say’ and, to be fair, these sweeping generalisations are  backed up with quotes from a single gamekeeper and a single land owner from Kent.  I’m sure that Magnus’s dinner party companions chunter on about the RSPB in such tones but it’s just possible that that is not a very representative sample of folk.

It suits Linklater’s paper-thin argument (that the RSPB is out of touch and out of sorts with all those ‘real’ country people) to promote the rural myth that most RSPB members are urban.  Those 1.1 million people are a bunch of townies apparently.  What evidence could Linklater provide to back up this assertion I wonder, other than the mutterings and splutterings around dinner tables after a day’s grouse or pheasant shooting?  I recommend that he reads Chapter 12 of Fighting for Birds for some corrective information on this subject.  But Linklater himself seems to live in a town, the New Town of Edinburgh, where he no doubt has dinner parties before decamping to the heather-clad hills for country suppers.  Apparently it’s OK to live in a town provided you go to the country to kill things now and again. I, myself, would like to be ‘rurban‘.

Let me give you one example of what I regard as Magnus’s lazy cleverness.  He’s kind enough to quote me in his article – in a rather disparaging way.  In discussing the RSPB’s reaction to an important piece of science carried out by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Linklater writes as follows;

‘This was dismissed by the RSPB’s former conservation director, Mark Avery, as “work… funded by grouse-moor managers who are keen to promote the wider value of grouse-moor management… predator control, legal and too often illegal, is part of the business of delivering lots of grouse to the shooting parties in the autumn.”

For a measured response to a serious scientific paper this borders on the facile, but highlights the yawning gulf between the two sides.‘.

You can check that I have faithfully recorded Magnus’s words by following the link that I have already given you (and here it is again). That passage is the only support that Magnus gives for his assertion that the RSPB ignored this important scientific study.  Those little rows of stops (…) show areas where words have been omitted. It is usual to do that to save space and preserve sense but here is the full text, the un-Magnussed version, of what I wrote:

work was funded by grouse moor managers who are keen to promote the wider value of grouse moor management.  This study does certainly confirm what has been thought for quite some time that the systematic removal of large elements of native wildlife such as foxes, crows, magpies, stoats and  weasels will benefit some ground-nesting birds.  No doubt the RSPB will be told that we should join in the massive scale of predator removal that occurs on many upland estates. Our management philosophy is to start with habitat management and to use predator control as a tool of last resort.  The situation is completely different for a grouse moor manager.  The whole business of grouse shooting depends on there being lots of grouse to shoot from the Glorious 12th onwards through the shooting season.  So predator control, legal and too often illegal, is part of the business of delivering lots of grouse to the shooting parties in the autumn. ‘.

So, Magnus’s version of what I wrote was 40 words and the actual version of his chosen excerpt was over 140 – that’s quite some edit! And the excerpt was from a blog of over 700 words devoted to talking about this study, written at the time the article was published, so hardly, as Magnus stated, virtually ignoring it.  I even called the study ‘interesting and important’ – which it is, but maybe I was just being facile.  Here is the link to that two and a half year old blog which you can see was not dismissive but was a reasonable thoughtful commentary on the work.  However, in a lazy clever sort of way it seemed to suit Magnus to portray it in a different way.  And here is the link to the study itself.

When it comes to ignoring science, Magnus does quite well himself. He fails to mention that the most powerful test of the potential impact of sparrowhawks on songbirds was not only carried out by the BTO scientist Dr Stewart Newson (whom he does mention) but also other BTO staff, academics from St Andrews University and a scientist from his own favoured GWCT.  Linklater’s description of the study is that the evidence against the sparrowhawk was ‘unproven’ although the authors say that ‘for the majority of the songbird species examined there is no evidence that increases in common avian predators or Grey Squirrels are associated with large-scale population declines‘.  When scientists say ‘there is no evidence’ that is a pretty strong statement.  Is this just the difference in terminology between the English and Scottish legal systems or is it that Linklater will never be  convinced, as a true countryman (with a town house in Edinburgh) that predators aren’t evil, aren’t causing havoc and should be tolerated by all?

There are plenty of clear errors of course (whose is the Red Data List, does the Red List really list only globally threatened species, wasn’t Linklater’s favourite GWCT study carried out at Otterburn (the clue is in the name – the Otterburn Study) which is in Northumberland rather than Yorkshire, are golden eagles flourishing (I wish!), do the BTO and RSPB differ over the population trends of raptors, were red grouse all but eliminated from Langholm?) which betray Linklater’s careless grasp of nature conservation and the facts that underpin our understanding of these issues.

There are jokes too – many will laugh (to use the type of phrase that Linklater employs so often) when he describes Lord Peel as a conservationist.  Clearly we are all conservationists now.  No-one, except some in the shooting community, equates nature conservation with the industrialised shooting of grouse and pheasants and the industrialised killing of so-called ‘vermin’ such as foxes and crows.

This article, as with this recent article in Shooting Times, is written, I assume, for consumption within the grouse-shooting community to buoy their spirits.  It is written to try to maintain flagging morale, rather than to make any serious points or advance any worthwhile cause.  It is the type of article that makes your side cheer and the other side snigger.  And you only have to read the comments attached to the article online to see that such a poor piece of argument, cleverly written all the same, backfires with those who are not the normal habituees of the Linklater dinner-party circuit – normal people are quite able to see through all of this.

In fact, we have to thank Magnus Linklater for collecting together in one place most of the misconceptions, downright inaccuracies, prejudices and myths about the RSPB in one handy article.  Rarely has such a complete job been done.  Here are the ones that I can spot:

  • the RSPB is obsessed with raptors (look at the RSPB’s website and see if you think the same – start here perhaps)
  • the RSPB’s members are townies (see above)
  • RSPB nature reserves are badly managed (see figures on bird numbers here)
  • the RSPB doesn’t care for small birds (look at the RSPB’s website and see if you think the same – start here perhaps)
  • the RSPB is anti-shooting (look at the RSPB’s website and see if you think the same – start here perhaps)
  • RSPB staff and members are anti-farmer (look at the RSPB’s website and see if you think the same – start here perhaps)
  • RSPB ignores the science (look at the RSPB’s website and see if you think the same – start here perhaps)
  • RSPB cares about membership numbers more than nature conservation (look at the RSPB’s website and see if you think the same – start here perhaps).

Some of the cleverness of the writing is really quite well deployed.  The RSPB ‘admits‘ that it helps the police try to catch people who break wildlife laws – I’m sure the RSPB is proud to be on the side of law and order and wouldn’t regard this as an admission. Linklater writes ‘ The RSPB, however, maintains a passionate campaign on behalf of all birds of prey, irrespective of their numbers’. Irrespective of their numbers? – I don’t think so, when hen harrier and golden eagle are missing from large parts of Scotland and northern England because of illegal persecution according to government, conservationists, scientific papers and even Linklater’s NGO of choice, the GWCT.  Linklater writes ‘Privately, RSPB officials will concede that farmers or landowners do much good work to propagate bird species – planting bird-friendly crops, burning heather and killing vermin in order to improve shooting prospects. In public, however, support for those who kill birds for sport is rarely if ever expressed.‘ whereas publicly the RSPB is always singing the praises of wildlife-friendly land managers, some of whom are also shooters.

We must thank the Observer for publishing such a long account (3000+ words) of the misconceptions of a clever man fully embedded within the shooting community.  Let’s have more of such nonsense as it will drive people to the arms of real nature conservationists in droves.



Bird Fair tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow’s tomorrow

I’m really looking forward to the Bird Fair – I always do.

This year looks as though it will be busier than ever for me as I am giving a talk and doing lots of book signings at various stands across the three days.

But I know that the time will also be spent chatting to friends and colleagues that I haven’t seen since the last Bird Fair and making new friends too.

Will you be there too? Spending your money on foreign holidays, new optics, camera equipment and the like?

Maybe I’ll see you in Lecture Marquee 1 at 2pm on Friday where I’ll be giving a 20 minute talk, or you could catch up with me at the following stands and ask me to sign your copy of Fighting for Birds:

Book signings:


Marquee 3, Subbuteo, 11-12

Marquee 4, RSPB, 12-1

Marquee 2, NHBS, 1-2

Marquee 3, Wildsounds, 3-4



Marquee 3, Subbuteo, 11-12

Marquee 2, NHBS, 2-3

Marquee 3, Wildsounds, 3-4



Marquee 3, Subbuteo, 11-12

Marquee 3, Wildsounds, 12-1

Marquee 2, NHBS, 1-2


But seriously

On Monday I suggested that twitching should be one of the competitive sports which gets its two hours a week in English primary schools, but today I’ll try to be a bit more serious about the subject.

I tend to steer clear of education as a topic as there is a tendency for all of us to think that we are experts on the basis that we all went to school!

Education is training – training for life.  I guess the point of the educational system should be to make us all happier.  It benefits the recipients of the education but it also benefits Society as a whole.  We can’t all be doctors or wildlife writers but it is generally a better world if a few of us are.  That’s why we invest huge amounts of our shared money in the education system.

Some of education is about learning useful stuff – like reading and writing and ‘rithmetic – but some is about learning how to approach life.  I would like the education system to produce young adults who can think and question why the world is how it is.

I’m glad that David Cameron has a temporary enthusiasm for sport but I wish he’d develop a stronger enthusiasm for science.  I wish we had more decision-makers, from MPs to civil servants, who properly understand the natural world from radiation to food chains.  We have to live our lives according to the laws – the laws of physics, chemistry and biology.  All that other stuff – literature, sport, economics, history, politics etc – fascinating though it is, and important though it may be, is really just the human froth we have imposed on the natural world around us.  And the trouble is, and it is a trouble, we spend so much of our time thinking about the froth and not about climate change, drought, biodiversity loss. overfishing, non-native species etc

I don’t want education to turn out more professional scientists (we probably have plenty) but I would love there to be many more scientifically literate voters and decision-makers. So let’s hope that two hours compulsory sport doesn’t allow us to win gold in the stadium whilst losing goldfinches, goldcrests and golden eagles in the world around us.