Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Launch of the Birds of Spurn !

On Sunday I went across to the official book launch associated with the " Birds of Spurn". This was held at Westmere Farm ( where Spurn Mig Fest activities have been held ) and was a roaring success. I admit to having an ulterior motive in that, after living on the Isle of Islay for 16 years, I was looking forward to seeing some familiar faces following my return to South Yorkshire. I enjoyed things, thoroughly and absolutely, but no way  was it intended as  "my day " but that of the author, Andy Roadhouse.

And so we all met in the converted barn at the farm in eager anticipation of getting our hands on a copy of the book.  What people need to appreciate is that during the compilation of the book Andy has been ill with terminal cancer. There were times when circumstances were pretty bad , but throughout the whole of those times his doggedness and sheer tenacity have shone through culminating in what is a first class publication.  I'll put out a review of the actual book later, but suffice to say that I am the proud owner of a copy !!  Copies will be available at the BirdFair and , similarly, copies can be ordered via the Observatory. get yours now !!

Here's Andy signing copies for the awaiting throng.  Since the inception of formal activities in recent times, all of which are covered in the book, an amazing number of species has been recorded at Spurn and an unimaginable amount of migration tabulated.  What has not been (dared ) mentioned is that, with the breach in the peninsula in recent years, we may now be seeing the end of Spurn as many people know it and, therefore, this will be a modern history of the ornithological significance of a particularly important area.  Hopefully, Spurn as is at the moment will continue to be in place for many years to come, but things may change dramatically in the next decade or so and so this book will serve as a very detailed , intimate history of an important UK ornithological site. The halcyon days of Spurn, a major contribution to ornithological literature and an absolute gem of a "memory bank" for so many people.  Get your copy whilst you can !!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

E-petition to ban grouse shooting exceeds 100,000 signatures !

As I write this at 1800 hours on the 13th August the E-petition to ban grouse shooting has reached  103,068 signatures !!!!   And all this the day after the so called "Glorious Twelfth "  celebrating the commencement of the grouse slaughter season.


You know 100,000 signatures of opposition reached the day after your "celebration" is like having a 21st party and then, the day after, countless people expressing the wish that you'd never been born !!   Not the endorsement I'd take heart from.

This opposition will grow, without a doubt.  The fact is that it's no longer just opposition to the activity but the environmental consequences now wrapped up in the chosen management of grouse moors, the unrelenting persecution of raptors and the side effects, such as flooding, which the management contributes to.  It all started with the somewhat transparent intention to wop the conservationists and rid the landscape of Hen Harriers......sadly other research has now emerged that hardens the case against the whole activity whose "back is very much against the wall".  The absence of any peer group initiative aimed at improvements to the situation, the rather misguided use of ill-prepared spokesmen and distorted "defence" arguments have gone a long way to pouring further discredit on the pastime.

Arrogance, insularity, thuggish behaviour on social media and an insistence at remaining above the law will simply harden peoples' resolve and intention for change.

This is the time, not to "Go Back, Go Back ",  but to take matters forward and express some sincere intention to clean up an industry whose situation is declining further and more rapidly as each day goes by.  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Latest update on the Visitor Centre, Spurn.

Just a brief entry to update the situation relating to the application by the YWT Ltd  to build a Visitor Centre at Spurn.  At its last meeting the East Yorkshire Council rejected the application, following which the YWT indicated via its website that it would take the matter to appeal.

Given that, until recently, I've lived in Scotland for 16 years I suspected that there might just be elements of the appeal process that were different in England nowadays or, indeed, had changed in the intervening period. As it is it must be close to 15 years since I was involved directly in an appeal process and then it was in the Isle of Man !

So I contacted the Council and raised various points of query that were occurring to me and yesterday, I'm pleased to say, I had a call from one of their officers to explain the situation , following which I had the opportunity to raise any further questions. I was impressed !  It was a comprehensive briefing and I hadn't actually any more queries to raise.

Basically the applicant has six months to lodge an appeal and submit the necessary details from the point at which the proposal was rejected. At this point in time no such appeal has been lodged , but it is understood that the YWT Ltd intend to do so as has been indicated on their web site.  Following these formalities being satisfied an Inspector will be appointed who will have full access to all the objections submitted previously. The objectors ( and I suspect local stakeholders  ) will be advised of the process and the arrangements and formalities involved, which includes the opportunity to submit further material as necessary. Details of the appeal itself will also be available and , of course, an indication will be made of the timescale involved.

So, there you have it thanks to an efficient Council.  It rather looks as if the process will extend into the autumn at the earliest and could well extend into the winter before things are finally determined.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Pleasure killing and management mayhem - the reality of grouse shooting?

I suspect that, tomorrow,  there will be many Press articles, Blogs, comments on Facebook and such like relating to the "Glorious 12th ", the commencement of the grouse shooting season. Rather than sit alongside  what I also suspect will be regurgitated facts, reworked summaries and repeated statistics I thought I would at least try to present something on the subject which took a slightly different approach, even if it did deal with the self same subject area.  No over emphasis here on raptor persecution,  wildlife regulations, economic relevance or E-petitions. No, I want to try and persuade people to think more deeply about what they believe grouse shooting  represents and to come to a personal judgement of its relevance and what should lie ahead.

 At the Hen Harrier Action Day at Edale on Sunday the question of "tradition" was raised. Now the Oxford English Dictionary states "  Tradition     a custom, opinion or belief handed down to posterity, especially orally or by practice . "  Some see grouse shooting as a traditional activity, but I feel the almost automatic acceptance of any such described activity being allowed to proceed into posterity needs to be questioned. But let's see !  Autumn blackberrying is a traditional pastime, enjoyed by many and harming no one, and can perhaps serve as a useful yardstick for comparative purposes.  By contrast, try a bit of independent grouse shooting and be prepared for the consequences !  So, immediately the availability of the pastime is limited to the central players ( the grouse moor owners and friends ) or to wealthy social aspirants, with relatively little relevance to the public at large.  In some senses the pastime would be described by many as elitism and, indeed, subscribe and be associated with the sector of Society that Herbert Spencer alluded to in his now discredited ideas on social Darwinism. !  Even I don't go that far !  If the story ended there then it might be largely ignored, at least tolerated, but the fact of the matter is that since its inception as an activity in Victorian times things have changed dramatically. Associated practices are now deemed to have negative environmental  impacts and be harmful , need to be questioned and regulated at best.  Nobody would advocate that female genital mutilation,  a "traditional" practice in some parts of the world is acceptable,  but there are parts of  "traditional " grouse management that are outmoded  and no more acceptable in the modern age.  Anxious cries from Uncle Hubert that things have always been done this way are somewhat irrelevant in the face of modern day research evidence that shows such outdated methods as having negative  and totally unacceptable impacts. Indeed some of the activities transgress the line in a legal context too !

   The practice of heather burning in order to provide optimum conditions for the grouse is now considered to be harmful in environmental terms.  The UK plays host to an appreciable proportion of all heather moorland habitat, but studies completed by the University of Leeds show negative side effects occurring via management that are even supported by money from the public purse in the form of Environmental Stewardship payments. Results can be read elsewhere, but show the practice to result in carbon emissions, to affect the potential for carbon capture and to contribute to circumstances leading to flash flooding in adjacent areas. In an era of ever emerging concern about climate change and of changing weather patterns practices which clearly exacerbate such circumstances must surely be held open to review for the common good?  Alongside all this is the assumed rights of management,which sees all perceived predators of grouse being removed and other wildlife such as Mountain Hares being eliminated.  What practice has any conferred right to eliminate our natural heritage in the cause of personal commercial gain and satisfaction and to do so in direct contravention of our laws ?

So it could be said that, in summary, we have an absolute minority, hell bent intent on retaining a so called "traditional "  activity that can be shown conclusively to have detrimental environmental side effects and to
be removing  constituent members of our national fauna illegally , all in the cause of fun or commercial gain.
Uhmm, time for reflection I think !  Where are its redeeming features I ask ?

Now all this ( in my personal opinion ) is bad enough , but there is one aspect of grouse shooting which I consider to be utterly repugnant and I am NOT anti-shooting per se .

Following totally artificial circumstances being created to assist grouse breeding we then see a process emerge which aims to shoot as much of "the product" as possible. No ? Then tell me of a shoot whose activities have been curtailed on the day due to the numbers of grouse shot being excessive. In fact the opposite is quite the case with large bags being the subject of pronounced pride and general promotion. This is little more than organized slaughter on what might be described as the UK's Killing Fields.  Google search the subject and exceptional days can be seen in the literature, held up as if to represent the apogee of success and attainment.  This intended bonanza of pleasure killing exemplifies what the core objectives of the practice is about, what its reputation rests on and what it feeds its commercial success on. And save us the romantic nonsense of being on the fells, the wind and sun on your face etc etc.......I've done that all my life and never raised a gun to a grouse ! And don't give me the " shooting expertise" argument either ! I watched Steve Scott secure his Olympic Bronze medal for clay shooting,  30 out of 30,  brilliant and very impressive.

There is one last aspect I'd like to touch on as it remains core to why circumstances are not being reviewed or improved when it comes to the practices of this industry, as its certainly nothing else. The sheer arrogance in which this industry operates is beyond belief. In fact, "belief" is the word as the constituent members , who in any other context would be judged to be part of the Establishment, have simply set themselves above the law , are proceeding as they think fit with "their" pursuit and to hell with the rest of us. Faced with the growing evidence of associated  " negatives"  any manager worth his/her salt would be looking closely at what might be done to improve matters. Do we see any evidence of that, do we see any peer pressure emerging, do we see any appetite for change ?  I don't believe so.  Sadly misplaced efforts containing misplaced notions, sadly supported by DEFRA, do little other than kick the prospect of an abiding solution into the long grass to accompanying chuckles from Uncle Hubert ( Saves the blighters right! ).

So, on balance , what do you think? Is this something that should be immune from review and regulation or something that deserves serious examination  and change ?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Hen Harrier Action Day, Edale, Derbyshire.

With Hen Harrier Action Days now very much in vogue ( 12 is it over the weekend ? ) I suspect all but some in Scotland enjoyed the same sort of tremendous weather which those further south were blessed with, including that in Northern Ireland. A good day, one in which solidarity with the main concern ( raptor persecution ) could stand alongside equally important emergent concerns relating to land management, climate change and flooding risk.

Edale enjoyed fine conditions throughout, a good turnout and the benefit of an informative programme provided by a variety of speakers. Against this there was ample opportunity to meet new friends, embrace old ones and generally enjoy the atmosphere.  I certainly did !  Having been absent from "mainstream" activities due to being domiciled on Islay for 16 years ( my choice, it was great too ! )  many people I bumped into were old friends . Great !!

Alan Davies very ably oversaw proceedings, perched on a ladder, to achieve better sound projection.

This was the beginning of a succession of presentations including, from, FindlayWilde  ( passion, young people, what we need to do ) which very much encapsulated what Hen Harriers represent, the new Police Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire who, in no uncertain terms, pledged both the support and the priority to be afforded all forms of wildlife crime.  A sincere undertaking that I suspect will demand a lot of hard work but which the Derbyshire "force" appear more than willing to confront.

                                                       Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire.

Following this Mark Avery set out the general picture associated with the campaign, its hopes , timescales and possible hurdles, and the immediate objective of achieving 100,00 signatures to the E-petition to ban grouse shooting  ( which has currently reached in excess of 74,000 ! )  at which point it would hopefully then achieve  a debate on the subject in Parliament.


There was more to follow  after a break for lunch and chats!

A presentation by Natalie Bennett ( Green Party Leader ), who'd travelled four hours by train to get there (!), summarized many of the environmental problems we faced , but pledged the Party's support for the banning of the outmoded, outdated activity grouse shooting currently represents, was then followed by Jon Stewart  ( National Trust ), who set out a very attractive vision for the Peak District and its future , followed by not dis-similar points presented by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.   

So, all in all, a great day with friends, colleagues and like-minded enthusiasts. Possibly the next consideration might be moving such days into the urban environment and presenting "the case" to the urban based populace as opposed to the "converted ". Certainly a lot of support for the petition has come from the inhabitants of the Hebden Bridge area, who suffered dreadful flooding in recent times, which they maintain is a consequence of the management techniques associated with the grouse moors located on the high land above their village.

But all such is for future, Today's occasion more than achieved its objectives and much more besides ! My final image is of three friends who have dedicated much to Hen Harriers , and achieved much too.  Mark Avery, the architect of the current initiative to ban grouse shooting and two dear friends, Bill Murphy and Bill Hesketh ,  who, for as long as I have known them since the late 1970's, have dedicated their lives to studying and monitoring raptors in the Forest of Bowland. For them all, this initiative  needs to succeed..

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Natural England...........what have you become?

The news that Natural England had granted a restricted licence to shoot Common Buzzards that were deemed to be causing a problem for a Pheasant rearing enterprise came as no real surprise in many respects but I think, from the outside, the whole subject deserves a critical examination.

Now, for those who might not know, Natural England is the Government's advisory body on all things wildlife and countryside. It has certain powers and duties , one of which is to consider applications of the above sort.  But , somehow, the Natural England of today appears to operate in a different context to its predecessor bodies of yesteryear. I believe one might have been able to predict the feelings of those involved  "in previous times", and the actions which might be advocated ;  now one can seemingly predict the outcome of things  knowing that, somehow, the organization has no longer any individuality, in fact , it has simply become a conduit for Government preferences. Contrasted against the situation of the individual officers I knew and respected, both for their views and expertise, I really sympathize with those now involved and what I believe the situation to be. Doubtless the same personal commitments are in evidence , but the opportunity to exercise real influence and advise on behalf of our natural heritage appears to be a diminishing element. Mild suppression, through the absence of encouragement and support, simply breeds low morale, reduced enthusiasm and an absence of job satisfaction. Sadly, those sentiments must be endemic within Natural England at present. If the approach taken by the previous incumbent, Liz Truss, (within whose tenure the discussions associated with this case undoubtedly took place ),  is anything to go by, then the situation is at a low ebb. Hopefully it will improve.

                                        By courtesy of Ben Hall, ( rspb-images.com )   RSPB.

The RSPB has roundly condemned the action, see Martin Harper ( Director of Conservation, RSPB ) in his Blog of yesterday.  Click on the link below for full details.

Natural England grants licence to kill Buzzards.

Rather than repeat what many have said already, it seems appropriate to simply take a close look at the fundamentals involved, as there are frightening consequences which might yet emerge from what might appear to be a one-off decision. Recent years have provided ample evidence that this Tory Government has little or no empathy with things associated with the environment. The former Chancellor saw the countryside as something little more than a resource to be exploited for financial gain, as opposed to something which harboured a resource we should be taking pains to take care of, namely our natural heritage.  I've no reason to doubt the same attitudes will prevail, particularly as no effective political opposition is in evidence.

The current case basically involves permission being given to kill birds which are claimed to be affecting a commercial enterprise involved in raising other species of birds, which are then shot by people who have paid money for the privilege.   The latter ( Pheasants ) are released in their millions each year, undoubtedly do untold damage to the ecology of the countryside and mere observation of roadkills suggests far more are likely to meet their end in that fashion than being preyed upon by Common Buzzards.  No, it is the biased protection of commercial interests which is the anomaly in all this and the frightening precedent this creates. We've all seen the predictable responses of the NFU to any initiatives which cut across the potential maximisation of profits of their members. And we've all read at times about the proposed "solutions" for perceived " problems" in the countryside ranging from Muntjac, Beavers, Wild Boar, White-tailed Eagles, Mountain Hares, Barnacle Geese such that , if they pose a threat, shoot em !! All such must be opposed , which is a task we must take on as the electorate given the perceived diminished status ( and funding )  of Natural England.

I suspect that Natural England is simply doing the bidding of its masters and independent action is at an absolute premium, however rational it might be. Solutions have to reflect the opportunities for "the big dollar" come what may and the body who is in place to rightfully defend our natural heritage is hogtied. I suspect the objectives within the corporate management manual of our current Natural England probably bear little resemblance to those of predecessor versions. In addition to the spotlight being placed currently on grouse shooting ( may we have a licence the Hen Harriers are killing our Red Grouse ?....think about it ! )  we all need to become more active in ensuring the self serving policies of Government  on behalf of vested interests are called into account.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Sting in the tail for Neonicotinid pesticides.

For a considerable time controversy has reigned over the use of Neonicotinid pesticides. The EU banned their use on flowering crops in 2013.  The UK opposed the ban and made provision for an emergency lifting of such restrictions, which were exercised in 2015, although it has rejected similar calls from the NFU  this year. Serious concerns have been raised across Europe at the declines in bee populations and the subject has been pursued in earnest in the UK to little effect, with parts of the scientific community and commercial interests arguing over the veracity of research results.  In other words, within the UK , the situation has been an absolute mess, with DEFRA's role under the stewardship of Liz Truss ( until recently Secretary of State for the Environment ) being an unmitigated disaster. This is certainly a situation where we were not overseen by EU regulation, but that the UK's own chosen path then being ill defined, inconsistent and a near lottery arising usually from  plea bargaining by the NFU.

                                                Red-tailed Bumblebee courtesy of BugLife

Now research, completed by the University of Berne, Switzerland, has placed a new perspective on the whole issue. It has been shown that the use of Neonicotinids cuts bee sperm down by as much as 40%  which clearly will have an utterly drastic effect on hive communities and natural populations and appears to have done so in the last few years.  Click on the link below to read the full article from The Guardian and better explanatory detail.

Neonicotinids under the spotlight

In the light of these research findings it will be interesting to see what the future response of DEFRA might be  given applications for use of the pesticides are usually made in advance of them being applied in autumn. Previously the recent response had been clear (thankfully ), but the situation appears to be even more convincing now and one might even suggest provide the basis for a review of the Government's current stance and the ban being invoked in the UK on a once and for all basis.  Details of the previous attempts to gain emergency usage can be followed via the link below.

Emergency usage of pesticide rejected.

Interestingly, support for the non-use of such pesticides has recently come from ALDI, who have declared they will not make available products where such pesticides have been used.  WELL DONE, ALDI !

Now , there is an even more interesting twist to all this !  Oh yes, and one which appears not to receive the exposure it might well deserve. I first saw details on this on a TV programme , but further research shows it has received regular "treatment" by newspapers, health magazines etc over the past few years. Those wonderful crops of oil seed rape, which admittedly bring a blaze of colour to our countryside, go on to be processed and appear on our supermarket shelves as Sunflower Oil.  Now we've all been subject to persuasive, promotional material vouching the benefits for health of using such cooking oils but there may well be another aspect to it all.

Heating such oil, particularly Sunflower Oil, to 180C releases aldehydes which are deemed harmful to health and a contributory cause to cancer !  I didn't know, indeed I've been a keen advocate of such use. Read the article via this link and  ( possibly ) be surprised.

Vegetable oils release toxic chemicals

Now it seems to me, naive or not, that we are growing particular crops, treating them with pesticides, which are demonstrably harmful  to, if not decimating, the insect populations that pollinate many other flowering crops associated with food we eat and thereby causing a problem, only to be left with a product ( sunflower oil ) that appears potentially harmful to ourselves in the end.   In the meantime, production goes on, profits are made, subsidies paid (? ),  and to what end? Our natural heritage is poorer, our health appears to be involved and yet the likes of the NFU continues to petition for greater usage of such pesticides in order to minimize financial losses by its members (read ensure profits ).  Quite honestly I wonder whether we should feel any sympathy for farmers whose enthusiasm for a particular crop no doubts links closely to the width of its profit margin !!  Time for honesty and the whole shebang to be thought through and clear advice and regulations issued, in other words DEFRA, stop fiddling around and provide the electorate with what is needed.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Release site for Eurasian Lynx reintroduction determined.

Today ( 25.7.2016 ) the Lynx Trust UK has revealed the latest situation with the proposed reintroduction of the Eurasian Lynx in the UK.

                                                        Erwin van Maanen, May, 2013.

Following several months of discussions with national stakeholders and the completion of further research, the Trust has identified the Kielder Forest as its preferred site for a reintroduction scheme. Local consultations will now begin across the whole of the area involved , which spans the English/Scottish border.

This forest, predominantly in Northumberland, is huge, has sheep largely excluded, has a reduced human presence and accompanying infrastructure ( roads/railways ) and is viewed as economically deprived. As such it  would undoubtedly benefit from the increased tourism that would result following a reintroduction scheme.

Eurasian Lynx have enjoyed success in recent years in Europe after its population dwindled to around 700 in the 1940's. There has been no evidence of attacks on humans in the intervening period and the population is now thought to be in the region of 8000. Similarly the predation rate on agricultural animals  ( sheep ) has been extremely low ( 0.4 kills per year per Lynx ) and I suspect the income from tourism far outstrips any financial losses in that respect.

The proposal continues to meet with general support and enthusiasm and it is hoped this latest stage of consultation  will proceed in the same vein. This is particularly gratifying for the Trust which relies absolutely on public support and pro bono contributions and receives no support from Government.

RSPB withdraws support for DEFRA's Hen Harrier Action Plan.

I'm in London at present and so my opportunities for direct engagement with "things birds" are a bit limited !  Imagine my surprise on this otherwise mundane Monday morning to learn that the RSPB had withdrawn its support of DEFRA's Hen Harrier Action Plan.  WELL DONE !!

Now I'd be the first to acknowledge that I have criticised the RSPB from time to time for what I sincerely felt was an absence of resolve and direct action when it came to harriers. Various entries on this Blog attest to that and I stand by what was said and what I felt was needed at the time. I now have a feeling that things have changed and potentially for the better. In that sense it is essential that even former critics ( me! ) give the RSPB the encouragement it deserves and for the general membership to offer its endorsement and support. The added declaration of the Society firmly advocating the introduction of a licencing system, coupled with its continuing investigations work, nest protection activities and the wide promotion of the persecution problem , are all direct actions to be pursued and reported on independently.

In early 2013 I launched an E-petition calling for the licencing of grouse moors ( and gamekeepers ! ) which expired on the 27th February , 2014 and had, by then, attracted over 10,000 signatures. The RSPB chose not to offer support despite them now embracing the concept of licencing of grouse moors.

I suspect their position was influenced to some degree by the fact that the Law Commission was carrying out a review of wildlife legislation and there were hopes that both licencing and the offence of vicarious liability ( recognized in Scotland ) might be included in recommendations coming forward. They weren't and I contend such expectations were somewhat naive resulting in time being lost.

The search for a solution to the woeful situation which the breeding population of harriers had now reached in England  led eventually , following wide discussions with a variety of stakeholders , to the appearance of the DEFRA Hen Harrier Action Plan in early 2016. There were areas of broad agreement, but aspects , particularly with brood management proposals, resulted in either condemnation or uncertainty from many others. This played into the hands of the shooting fraternity who were quite happy to see continuing obfuscation occur. However, continuing persecution, with little meaningful peer pressure emerging from the wider constituents within the industry, showed even the wider elements of the plan to be resulting in no cooperative initiatives or carrying any lasting influence. In terms of delivery it was very much a case of "Return to Sender" !  Such is the same situation currently and certainly plays its part in the reasoning behind the RSPB's withdrawal , full details of which can be read in Martin Harper's Blog   (click and read )

Why the RSPB is withdrawing support from the Hen Harrier Action Plan.

This action by the RSPB has drawn a line under events in addition to declaring their own immediate objectives ( which, incidentally, includes encouraging people in Scotland to support the E-petition advocating licencing to apply there. ).  It has also isolated the current proponents of the Action Plan and firmly placed their future commitment and actions under the spotlight. Continuing persecution of raptors within the shooting industry will only serve to reinforce the calls elsewhere of there being a complete ban on grouse shooting. Somehow they don't appear to have made this connection or are simply retreating into the comfort of their own complacency.

I have to say that, at my age, I would prefer to see the introduction of a licencing system in the near future as time is running out for both me and Hen Harriers ( I hope relatively so in my own circumstances ! ).  An outright ban would take a long time to effect, would promote arguments about land ownership/rights, effects on a commercial activity and so on. There is much that needs to be addressed within the practices of the grouse shooting industry ( habitat management of unique moorland areas,  consequences for flood control, ingestion of lead,  persecution of part of our natural heritage ).  The abolition or major alteration of grouse shooting as an activity will take time, a lot of time. The ultimate situation might see such activities banned but, in the meantime , we need some element of regulation aimed at seeing Hen Harrier populations get back on their feet and the isolation of those who still insist on arrogantly following their own selfish agenda, with utter disregard for the law, being identified. I believe the most prudent step forward is to push strongly for a licencing system, whilst placing the above aspects under increasing scrutiny, with the ultimate result being for the industry/activity to be banned if no lasting, sensible solutions are possible.  The extent to which this will be possible given the "new" Tory administration is open to question.   Prime Minister, Theresa May's previous avoidance of the chum culture might not now extend to rapping the knuckles of the wealthy landowners or restricting their activities, we'll have to see.

Still way in the future, possibly, but it's still been a hell of a Monday!  Again, well done RSPB.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

More signs of summer. 23.7.2016

Immediately post dawn it was calm, cool (!) and the waters of the reservoir appeared as a sheet of glass........ Ingbirchworth at its best.  A quick count before " a circuit"  showed duck numbers to be pretty much the same as previously and 4 Grey Herons spread around the waters edge.

Despite the shelter of the fringing willows midges were in short supply,  although good numbers of Willow Warblers and odd Whitethroats were taking their toll!  Again, virtually no visible passage was noted other than a rapidly moving party of Black-headed Gulls SW and a single adult Common Gull west, not always a feature of high summer.  And that was it,  other than six Grey Wagtails ( two adults ) , a couple of Yellowhammer still in song and a single Common Sandpiper.

A walk around a couple of other reservoirs showed much the same circumstances.  Royd Moor did have a surprise in the form of 115 Grey lag Geese, a Lesser Whitethroat and a fly through Tree Sparrow, but that was it. Mid morning gave soaring temperatures and an opportunity to look for butterflies which was then the essence of the day.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Signs of summer. 20.7.2016

Post dawn saw utterly calm conditions at Ingbirchworth Reservoir near home with an accompanying, almost strange quietness.  Along the dam wall at least 7 Grey Wagtails and a few Pied Wagtails fed and a single Common Sandpiper explored the water's edge.  Mallard numbers are now begining to rise and a couple of small, late broods were noted too. Tufted Duck, Canada Goose, Coot, Great crested Grebe and Little Grebe all added to the variety along with three Grey Heron, one of which was a very clear juvenile.

Young thrushes, warblers and the odd anxious party of titmice all signalled the breeding season had perhaps not been as bad as feared. A Lesser Whitethroat was in full song, a late arrival with no mate (?), contrasting with the muted alarm calls of its near relative at various places.  A single Great Spotted Woodpecker called, as did a Common Buzzard , and two Sand Martin made their way south westwards across the reservoir, the only direct evidence of birds on the move.

A visit to nearby Gunthwaite Dam produced little ( Mallard, Moorhen, Coot, Tufted Duck ) although Nuthatch and Bullfinch added variety.  Broadstones Reservoir had Mallard and a group of over 20 Swallows but yielded nothing more.  0830 hours and time for breakfast!  Whitley Common held a group of LBBG's and odd BHG whose numbers altered incessantly.  I was intrigued by a young Kestrel which repeatedly launched itself from a tree in a small plantation and circled low over adjacent grassland. It stooped a couple of times, but I wasn't sure how successfully !  It's efforts at regaining its perch position were less than polished with most occasions seeing it sprawled in the branches previous to a final scramble for safety. No doubt a locally bred bird now facing the rigours of independence!

Moving off onto higher ground the silence north of Tinker Hill moorland was shattered by a Curlew circling around and calling repeatedly. This went on for some time, although nothing else was in view until a large immature female Peregrine rose from the ground and flew off south,  possibly after taking a tilt at a Curlew youngster. Winscar Reservoir had its usual collection of Canada Geese, Mallard  and ferals, all sent into disarray by dogs being walked along the shore, bathing or chasing ducks and geese!!  Time to depart, but in any case given it was now late morning , and the temperature was beginning to rise with a vengeance. After  the odd foray into a couple of areas looking for butterflies I called a halt to proceedings, went home and watched the Tour de France participants battle their way up impossible contours in heat similar to that outside !!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Visitor Centre at Spurn.

Well, whilst I haven't seen anything official as yet I understand that, at the meeting of the East Yorkshire Planning Committee yesterday, the proposal to build a visitor centre at Spurn was rejected ! A vindication for truth and common sense.

Following  the previous planning meeting the YWT did indicate that, should the application be rejected, then they would take it to appeal. Again, as yet , nothing has emerged on that subject to my knowledge.

Well, well, well ! there'll be some for whom this is a triumph, others for whom it represents abject disappointment.  But after all this, the challenge still remains and that is for Spurn to be maintained as the special site it truly is despite its uncertain future from storms and erosion. Time for a collective effort in my book to ensure the final years of a great, great place ( and there may be very many indeed ) are aimed at retaining a truly wonderful site.   

Update 1700 hours 19.7.2016.

I understand that the YWT Ltd are to appeal the decision taken by the East Yorkshire Planning Committee yesterday and   " expect the Secretary of State to overturn the decision ".

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Latest edition of RSPB's "Legal Eagle".

I always enjoy reading editions of the RSPB's "Legal Eagle " and the most recent one , which popped through the post this morning , is no exception.  Essentially it's the newsletter of the RSPB's  Investigations Section and, therefore, very much reports on cutting edge topics and recent events. This one is no exception with articles dealing with DNA techniques being developed to combat the illegal trapping of migrants in Cyprus ( plucked birds intended for ambelopoulia in restaurants are difficult to identify when plucked !! ),   to reportage on the most significant conviction (  ever ) for the destruction of a bat roost involving a total fine of £ 10,000, a jail sentence for a Lancashire taxidermist, and various prosecutions relating to poaching, flytipping on a SSSI, the sale of antlers of protected species from abroad and much , much more.  Whilst it might seem the breadth of wildlife crime has widened over the years I feel personally that the efficacy of those organizations involved in its detection has significantly increased , which is welcome news of the best kind !!

Years ago, when I worked for RSPB ( in the 1980's and !990's ), egg collecting was a problem and it was supposed around 500 active collectors were in existence.  Dedicated and persistent detection work , resulting very often in prosecutions, has changed that pattern of  anti-social behaviour, which seems to have receded to virtually nothing.  What has most certainly shot into prominence is the international aspect of wildlife crime. Such activities are no longer a "domestic" issue but can involve the merciless trapping of birds in some foreign enclave simply to service the demands of the habit of keeping exotic captive species in another. And neither are such  habits confined to birds with mammals, reptiles, even exotic plants, being the subject of such depredations.


The leading article outlines how an internet dealer , based in Kent, offered for sale protected specimens, in the form of body parts ( 134 primate specimens and two leopard skulls ). In what appears to have been a very involved case the person was given a suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay £4724.34 in fines additional to an original imposed fine of £800. The UK Border Force was involved and an aspect that I personally found gratifying, the illegal supplier of the material was apprehended by the East Java police in Indonesia.

Wildlife crime is a far more extensive activity than in previous times, but certainly the RSPB Investigations Section is at the forefront of the fight against such activities. Whilst the cases reported on are the most prominent in a given time period,  the dedication and involvement of the Section's staff  " at home" is in response to an incessant demand than requires countless hours of  application of effort. Much of that grind results in little that is tangible or able to be reported on . Knowing that such effort is unrelenting I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to our colleagues in the " Investigations Section, RSPB" for their efforts on behalf of us all.   Thanks all, and a good retirement to Duncan!!

Do please access the above report on line or contact the Investigations Section at the RSPB HQ at Sandy
(01767 680551 ) for details.  

Spurn Visitor Centre.........decision now imminent !

Yesterday ( Friday )  East Yorkshire Planning Committee members and officers visited Kilnsea and Spurn  and examined at first hand what the implications of allowing a Visitor Centre to be constructed at Spurn would actually be. At their previous meeting concerns had been raised as to the proposed location of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts new Centre,  flooding risks and whether other alternatives premises or ideas  might be considered. In many senses these reflected similar concerns in the very many objections to the proposal that had been submitted to the Council.

Note that the large mast is no longer part of the application, otherwise the image gives a general impression of what a new Centre might look like.

I personally feel such visits are sensible, costly in time and resources maybe, but resulting in a much more rounded appreciation of all the factors involved.  Whilst the likelihood of aspects like the future claims of visitor attendance would no doubt have been only superficially considered  ( I still personally believe the claims by the YWT in this regard are wildly optimistic and support little other than the prospect of a "white elephant "  being the result if the proposal is approved ),  the occasion will undoubtedly have provided the Councillors with a better insight into the situation previous to their meeting on Monday when the matter will be resolved.  At least the process can be judged fair and democratic based on the evidence available!!

Sadly the YWT saw fit to declare,  following the previous planning meeting at which the matter was deferred pending the site visit, that they had every intention of mounting a legal challenge if the Planning Committee turned down its proposal. The reportage was couched in rather naive terms too, " We are the Wildlife Trust".  Uhmm, a product of frustration or a knee jerk reaction from some individual source we shall never know, but unwise in my book given the responsibilities presided over by the planning system nowadays. Surely better to wait for the outcome, and the basis of any decision,  rather than suggest  further action by what came over as a veiled threat, particularly after the open relationship and information exchange between the parties in the run up process.

Whatever the circumstances that prevail, there is only a matter of days to wait now before the outcome is known as the next meeting dealing with the matter is scheduled for Monday next !  Whatever the decision, it must still be appreciated that there is a major job of work to address at Spurn and the YWT has the unenviable task of carrying that responsibility.  As a National Nature Reserve the habitat management work is still required, visitor safety is still a major issue and the "normal" responsibilities of land ownership faced up to. In the background lingers the almost inevitable consequences of the effects of further debilitating erosion to the peninsula , even flooding,  against which such actions need to be carried out.   Not an easy scenario by any means, but not one in which major capital investments should be considered either in my view  ( although such would be of little consequence as Eon is potentially picking up the bill!! ).  Time will tell in all respects!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Spurn latest.......democracy in action !

Well , it seems East Yorkshire has been swept up in the maelstrom of change and uncertainty just as much as other parts of our democratic processes!!

Today at the East Yorkshire Planning Committee meeting it was resolved to defer a decision on the Visitor Centre proposed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for erection at Kilnsea at the head of the Spurn Penninsula. Not an outcome that would have been predicted with any confidence, but what major issues can be nowadays it seems?

Following short presentations by representatives of the Trust and local residents, and consideration of the recommendations by the Planning Officer, it was decided a site visit should be held to examine the location at first hand.  Concerns were raised over the location of the proposed Centre and associated flood risk,  and perhaps more importantly, that there needs to be certainty over the lack of ANY other possible alternative location. This is an important point for consideration as it has been repeatedly suggested suitable alternatives do exist more in keeping with development within the area but, perhaps most importantly, more realistically linked with the likely visitor attendance associated with the presence of a Centre. This is not a point the Trust appear willing to accept given their more ambitious commercial objectives and expressed confidence in visitor projections, the latter considered vastly overstated by many !

So, what next? Well, no date for a visit has been determined, so a further period will elapse before the final outcome is known.  It is democracy in action after all (! ), but for those who raised objections or doubts about the proposal there is now some room for optimism.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Conservation in chaos !

I can't say I'm pleased or comfortable with the outcome of the Referendum, particularly as I suspect the implications for "the environment" will be worse than for other sectors.  But , the malleable majority have spoken and got what they wanted. Or did they ?  I've a horrible suspicion many just voted Exit in the hope they'd take a swipe at the Tories as they didn't really understand the process in the first place !

But I'm not going to have the temerity of forecasting this, that and the other as others appear willing to do way before the process has even got under way. That, to me,  is foolish and likely to be seriously misguided given there are no precedents or comparisons to go by.  However, even sticking by the facts, the future situation appears not to be good when it comes to "the environment".

To some great extent, in my view, the EU has very often tempered and adjusted the somewhat lukewarm commitment to our natural heritage that recent UK governments have exhibited.  The EU regulations have provided some constancy when it comes to environmental standards to the extent that Member States have been criticised, even fined, for given actions, all of which will now end!!  The EU Birds and Habitats Directives will no longer apply. Two major pieces of legislation which have been a bedrock against which planning and performance was often judged. They weren't perfect, what system is , but they were better than  what we'll  have now and, worse still, better than anything one can imagine a UK Government might institute, particularly a Tory Government.  And other environmental subject areas benefited too......Clean beaches, the Marine Environment, climate change, toxic chemicals....the list goes on.

And don't forget the research and conservation grants and programmes the EU funded. In this respect the RSPB and many other NGO's will find things more difficult than previously and will have to work hard to meet the financial shortfalls which will become evident, particularly if any of the predictions of austerity bite!

In my view the influence that NGO's have had on our "Government machine" in recent times has been waning rapidly.  There's been a misplaced impression within their thinking that, somehow, they've been making inroads into the thinking of their chums in Government. What thinking ?  There is and has been no empathy or intent when it comes to our natural heritage, particularly within the last six years ( Thanks, Dave ! ) and effusive thanks born of breeding and upbringing aren't enough set against the inputs made available and a lack of action.

My main fear in the future maelstrom of uncertainty, which is bound to follow, is that the Establishment, as always, will seek to protect its own interests ( First Principle ), but that it will deliberately exploit the opportunities that now come from a relaxation or absence of controls aimed at preserving our natural heritage.  No, you might say ! Well, let's see what happens with fracking and the opportunities wee George Osborne has oft extolled in terms of economic development. He may not be directly involved, but adherence to pursuing the opportunity to create wealth will apply come what may ( Second Principle ) with little regard for the environment.  OK, dismiss this as predictive rubbish if you will.  I say , come back in five years and see what is in place !!  Concern and provision for environmental matters will be bottom of the pile in the upcoming years and the weak approaches of NGO's in recent times need to stiffen significantly in response, otherwise their support will reduce. Let's see, it could be the making of them!!

So, a bleak picture in many senses for the environment if the current Government remains in place,  They might not be, of course, but we need to ensure any alternative is better and I confess not to having a deal of confidence in that direction either. At the moment the Westminster village appears to be playing the game of " Secure a place in history, fall on your sword " which might be even something to encourage except the personalities never actually go away !

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Spurn Visitor Centre decision imminent.

After quite a long period for the application from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for its proposed Visitor Centre at Spurn to be scrutinised by the Local Planning Authority I understand there is to be a meeting of the appropriate Committee on the 27th June, 2016 at which the details will be considered.

It's over forty years since I was more closely involved with planning matters so, whilst I suspect the circumstances will be broadly similar, there might well be aspects that are new and will not necessarily result in a decision being forthcoming on the day.

The above image may not be an accurate depiction of precisely what is now being considered,  but gives a general impression of what is being decided upon. I suspect, since the details were submitted in December , 2015 , that more than a few queries have been raised by the Planning Authority leading to a great deal of work and clarification by the applicant ( YWT Ltd ). I presume it is upon this updated and "refined" situation that the decision will now be taken.

So, whether we agreed or dissented as far as the details were concerned, we can now await a decision in the not too distant future. After being involved in some pretty big planning cases in the past , e.g. the Mersey Barrage, I hope that people will respect the process. Yes, there'll be elation from one side if things go through and utter disappointment, tears even, from the other side if their hopes are dashed . But the system is all we've got and far, far superior to that in many other places where no democratic system is in operation !  A few years ago I discussed the situation with several people involved with the reserve/observatory at Eilat, and discovered that Israel has no planning system equivalent to our own, no local plans, in fact, not much at all compared to our own approach. Worth thinking about and respecting ........ if that begins to be a problem, just think of some of the road systems in Spain with several  main roads running in parallel to the same eventual location !!  We do try,  even if the system appears to be imperfect at times !!!

Whatever the outcome I hope the best outcome is worked for as far as Spurn is concerned. Given the changes that won't be easy,whatever the outcome, but it is necessary in my view.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Lynx reintroduction a step closer.

The reintroduction of the Lynx has taken a step closer to realisation with a meeting of national stakeholders recently that addressed the possibility of releases within 2017.

Last year the Lynx UK Trust issued plans for a trial reintroduction of the Lynx, which has been absent from the UK for 1300 years. Research has shown that there is enough suitable habitat in existence for these shy animals and that the populations of deer upon which they feed are also sufficiently abundant.  It is known that the animals favour large ( commercial ) forest areas and rarely stray outside of these, which results in predation on livestock being very low and of there being no recorded incident, ever, of an attack on humans.

                                                   By courtesy of  Erwin van Maanen

The results of a public consultation survey showed 90% support towards the release of no more than ten individuals, which then would be the subject of intense monitoring.  This week 20 of the major stakeholders came together with the Lynx UK Trust to discuss the proposals and research in more detail. The discussions were held at the University of Cumbria and covered a diverse range of subjects from eco-tourism, the potential impacts on deer populations, the selection of release sites and so on. Further discussions are to take place and will intensify once a decision has been taken on where the first potential release site will be located. It is hoped this decision will be made by mid-summer.

All success !

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What goes round, comes round !!

                                                      Photograph courtesy of RSPB

In an extraordinary twist to the story the Moorland Association put out a release today that the gamekeeper involved in the setting up of poletraps on the Mossdale Estate, which actions were caught on camera by the RSPB, had resigned his appointment with the estate concerned.

Furthermore they revealed that the Mossdale Estate, owned by the Van Cutsem family, had  resigned its membership of the Moorland Association. Whilst I suspect we shall never know the real background "ingredients" to either of these aspects, the revelations are quite telling in themselves. The gamekeeper may have been sacked, a situation I suspect we shall gain confirmation on in due course. Undoubtedly he brought a focus of attention on the Estate that would certainly not have been to its choosing. Whether or not he himself was a member of the National Association of Gamekeepers and, if so, what their reaction might be requires more inquiries.  As importantly, whether he will gain similar employment on another Estate is also of interest.

The situation with the Moorland Association is intriguing to say the least.  Having being a participant in the compilation of the DEFRA ill fated Hen Harrier Action Plan are they finally beginning to feel exposed by the
actions taking place in the grouse shooting industry by estates where persecution is proven to occur ?  Are they feeling let down by their peers or are they commencing to exert peer pressure themselves on those who are letting the side down ?  We shall never know I suspect until a similar incident occurs and we can monitor what happens in the aftermath. Given their lukewarm  " support"  for recent events , i.e. the actions by the National Trust in the early termination of a shooting lease in the Peak Park,  I somehow doubt this current event has been entirely of their own making, but we'll see.  It would be nice to believe that they had made an approach to the Estate owner concerned and suggested that continuing membership of the Association was untenable. But, at the end of the day, from any Estate owners viewpoint, does membership really confer any absolute benefits?  I doubt it ! The converse is possibly the more important whereby the membership of the Moorland Association by estates where persecution has been proven to take place brings into doubt the credibility of the organization and its ability to be involved or included in initiatives that might affect its members ( and past members of course ! ).

The whole story may yet have a few furlongs to run!!!  The review by the Police on why the gamekeeper involved was simply given a caution, and not prosecuted, has yet to make its appearance. Its eventual details will no doubt bring renewed focus on the incident and provoke further comments and inquiries.

Monday, June 13, 2016

International Flyway sites for shorebirds even more important than first thought.

I don't think there is anything more exciting than seeing a large flock of waders wheeling about in flight over the expanse of an estuary. I'm sure we've all had that experience and have also to admit that it never pales in its effect ! Over the years a large amount of time and energy has been directed towards such sites by conservation bodies, ever conscious of their importance to shorebirds moving on their migrations over various parts of the globe. Certainly in the UK the RSPB has put in a huge amount of work and resources aimed at gaining the recognition and designation of such sites and the BTO continues to place emphasis on their importance by organizing counts of birds under the WeBS ( Wetland Bird Survey ) and, in particular, the Low Tide Counts scheme. Similar work is carried out around the world by differing organizations.

One of the imperatives which continues to focus attention on such sites is that they are favoured for expansion by the petrochemical industry, hydroelectric schemes and a whole plethora of other industrial interests that require vast spaces on which to base their operations. This , of course, is often the precursor to the alteration of the areas "reclaimed" which, in turn , can have a knock on effect as far as adjacent areas are concerned.

For the first time details have emerged of how important these areas really are.  It's not enough to presume that birds displaced by such industrial activities simply seek out and then continue to use some alternative. Research carried out linked with the East Asian - Australasian Flyway and, in particular, associated with the Saenmangeum reclamation scheme in South Korea has unearthed some disturbing results that show birds don't automatically switch to alternative sites and, as a consequence, pressures emerge on that particular population , with disastrous results. Here is an abstract of the research concerned kindly provided by Niall Moores

Saemangeum in the Republic of Korea (ROK, “South Korea”) was one of the most important shorebird staging sites in the Yellow Sea. It supported at least 330,000 shorebirds annually in 1997-2001 including ~ 30% of the world population of Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris) during both northward and southward migration. Construction of a 33km long seawall was completed in April 2006. We show that shorebird numbers at Saemangeum and two adjacent wetlands decreased by 130,000 during northward migration in the next two years and that all species have declined at Saemangeum since seawall closure. Great Knot was among the most rapidly affected species. Fewer than 5,000 shorebirds were recorded at Saemangeum during northward migration in 2014. We found no evidence to suggest that the majority of shorebirds of any species displaced from Saemangeum successfully relocated to other ROK sites. Instead, by 2011-2013 nearly all species had declined substantially in the ROK since previous national surveys in 2008 and 1998, especially at more heavily reclaimed sites. It is likely that these declines were driven by increased mortality rather than movement to alternate staging sites given that other studies have revealed concurrent declines in numbers and survival on the non-breeding grounds. This is the first study in the East Asian – Australasian Flyway to confirm shorebird declines at a range of geographical scales following a single reclamation project. The results indicate that if migratory shorebirds are displaced from major staging sites by reclamation they are probably unable to successfully relocate to alternate sites.

Full citation:

Moores, N., Rogers, D.I., Rogers, K. and Hansbro, P.M. 2016. Reclamation of tidal flats and shorebird declines in Saemangeum and elsewhere in the Republic of Korea. Emu, 116, 2: 136-146. Published by CSIRO. http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MU16006

It would appear that the importance of all such Flyway sites in an international context is paramount to the future survival of many shorebird bird species and that renewed vigilance and targeted protection needs to be the order of the day !!