Monday, December 31, 2012

On Shakespeare and birds!

In advance of  "the big day" tomorrow, a slightly irreverent look at the Bard and his birds!!

Was Shakespeare a birder?  Well, I suppose not in the accepted sense ,  but he certainly quoted birds more than any other poet in the west.  Various authorities have teased out up to 64 different species being mentioned on at least 606 occasions. Some bird names are very general  (duck, bunting, gull ) but others are far more specific  (Chough, Wry-neck'd or Estridge, which was a name for Goshawk ). All in all, and despite the best efforts of acclaimed authors like Sir Archibald Geike and Caroline Spurgeon, I sense the Bard was a keen observer of birds and nature, but little more.

So , was he a "lister"?  Well it would be easy to infer that he was at least in sympathy with the practice, if not indulging in the action that will launch itself in another maelstrom of annual activity tomorrow! The best evidence for this is within the following notable words.....

I [see you ] stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start
The game's afoot!

Henry the Fifth, Act Three, Scene one.

Certainly they sum up my mental state and preparations and I rather guess many other birders in the UK and elsewhere. To all, have a great 2013 with lots of memorable birding experiences.

Footnote;  there again, looking at those words above, they could represent a mantra muttered by all referees at the start of a football game..............or even the crowds outside awaiting the Boxing Day sales. Perhaps he wasn't in tune with our great pursuit after all!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Twelve days of Christmas!

Well, I have to say that, after all the trauma of the last few weeks, and the many months of frustration preceding that,  I'm now declared "whole" and I'm "ready to roll." Recent and final discharge decisions by the hospital and optician mean I can now begin to get back to normal after what has seemed to be a long drawn out period, within which time I dutifully followed all requirements, even to the extent of driving minimally!

I'm reminded of the carol, "the Twelve Days of Christmas", given that is now the period that remains until the New Year of 2013 commences. Including Christmas itself, I seem to have something that now needs to be completed or sorted out, and which will eat up each of the days remaining, before a more relaxing approach to birding can be taken. Some of this thankfully involves birding in the sense of being an attempt to catch up with outstanding survey work , be it Winter Thrushes surveys or WeBS/Low Tide Counts.

Plans are already in hand for January and I have to say, without wishing the time away, that I'm really looking forward to getting to the New Year.  As I write this it's lashing it down outside and the strong overnight south easterly winds have very gradually begun to subside (very gradually! ) Some ferries have been cancelled and the prediction for the weekend is a little more of the same, which will add even more intensity to the sense of anticipation! God forbid it should be bad weather on the 1st January when year lists can begin !, just an over-healthy attention to getting involved again with the best hobby in the world!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Early stocking-filler news!

Hi everyone. Just an update and explanation given the lack of continuity in Blog posts recently. I've recently returned from Gartnavel Hospital, Glasgow after an operation on my left eye. This was entirely successful and involved removing a cataract affecting the lens ,which was obscuring my vision, and replacing  it with a brand new one. It's beginning to be a "common" operation nowadays with a very, very high success rate. The transition is remarkable and I'm damned sure my vision in that eye is better than it's ever been ( and I considered it very good in former times!! ). The extent to which staring out to sea for passage birds or into bright, blue skies counting raptors over many, many years might not have helped, although there's no evidence for this. With worries nowadays about UV levels though I guess it's sensible to take every opportunity to protect a resource that we all value so much because of our hobby (obsession? ).

With the pressure on our National Health Service in the UK being more severe than ever I'll simply say that, at every stage of the process, I was impressed and nothing, but nothing, could be criticized. It is an excellent organization! Any large organization is bound to have its problems from time to time. These can be resolved by good management. What can't be resolved so easily is endless revision  and interference from politicians who desire to put a different stamp on the process. Our NHS is the envy of the world, and rightly so! Certainly here is a very satisfied patient, utterly grateful and in awe of what can be achieved, and so thankful of the new opportunity to enjoy so many things for years to come. Thank you, NHS!!

Given the fact I'm not supposed to drive for a while I'm afraid "active" reports of birding will be absent. I'll try and insert a few entries of other things going on in the birding world until after the "sign off" date in December! I'm already plotting and planning visits , trips etc for 2013, however, I'm not, as some wag suggested, going to start a list of birds seen with my "new" eye!!!  Happy birding folks!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Geese, geese, even more geese!! 1.11.2012

Today saw the first real snow of winter with the conical summits of the  Paps of Jura  being covered to mid -level until part way through the day. Weather itself was mixed at best, with sleet, sunny periods, rain, relatively calm conditions then changing towards the end of the day with quite strong winds arising.! So, a mixture, which can also be said about the geese present on the island at present.

Today was also the first of the formal goose counts organized by Scottish Natural Heritage. Such are linked to the agricultural subsidy system , but also the monitoring of the various goose populations, particularly the Greenland White-fronted Goose, are additional critical elements that come out of the project. A full day of counting leaves little opportunity for "other birdwatching", but distant views of eagles were a bonus. Few winter thrushes were in evidence and, sadly, numbers of small passerines appear to be at a particularly low ebb.

Two or three large flocks of Barnacle Geese were present within our sector, the largest of which was present on Bridgend Flats. Passing this accumulation, on our way to a nearby area, we reckoned on over 4000 was present. Returning shortly afterwards our count only saw just over 3000 being still present, as groups of birds repeatedly left the area. Good views were had of a leucistic bird,which looks suspiciously like the one present last winter.  Some good flocks of Whitefronts  were seen and an indication of the numbers which have returned will soon be available once the International Goose count has been completed in November. Hopefully this will show that the population has not reduced as significantly as in recent years. Such reductions are suspected to be as a result of the competition arising between increasing numbers of Canada Geese in Geenland and the subspecies of White-fronted Geese also breeding there. Time will tell!

It seems to me that, should numbers of Canada Geese continue to increase in Greenland we might also see a marginal increase in their winter occurrence on Islay. Several Lesser Canada Geese appear to be present this winter and, almost as if wishing to register its presence on the first count of 2012/2013, a "blue" Snow Goose turned up yesterday too at Gruinart !!  This species arriving alongside the already present Red-breasted Goose  means Islay is currently playing host to a very good selection of goose species and will undoubtedly attract many birdwatchers wishing to "connect" with what is a significant assemblage of rare geese!! To these must be added Grey lag Geese, Light-bellied Brent Geese and the odd Pink-footed Goose!!  Some years ago, with a similar assemblage of individuals being present, I managed to see all but one ( Lesser Canada Goose ) in a single afternoon. Exhausting and with well in excess of a hundred miles completed within Islay itself,  all laced together , I suspect , with a great deal of luck!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Seeing something new.....the hard way!!

Now I suppose to hear of a  "new" bird species being discovered in the depths of the Amazon jungle comes as no surprise to anyone. To learn of a bird being found in the middle of nowhere on the bleak, inhospitable Tibetan Plateau is rather different.  The story......

Way back in 1929 , and whilst participating on an expedition to the Karakorum, the Dutch explorer Jerome Alexander Sillem collected a variety of finches at 5125 m, which then found their way back to the Zoological Museum in Amsterdam.  In 1991 Professor C.S.Roselaar noticed a couple of the specimens amongst this collection of Brandt's Mountain Finches were "different " and , after extensive checking, they were declared to be a separate species, Sillem's Mountain Finch. A nice story in itself and apt recognition for the efforts of the discover, Jerome Sillem.  But , until 2012, neither sight nor sound of the species had ever emerged!!

In June, 2012 Yann Muzika, a wildlife photographer,  was trekking in the Yemgov valley on the Tibetan Plateau and took various photographs of mountain finches he encountered. Believe or not, on the day he took the photographs , he'd called a halt to the trek as he was ill with food poisoning, but managed to have a wander around the camp site!! Incidentally, the location is around 1500 km away from the initial location that the species was collected in.

Take a look at his web site ( and book mark it for future!! ) and the accompanying story, (Sillem's Mountain Finch. ) and read the full story, but also see the reportage by the BBC ( BBC Science ).

I feel a sense of joy for Krys Kazmierczak, who Yann first contacted with the photographs, and who first suspected the re-discovery and also Professor Roselaar, whose own "discovery" had been confirmed , but in the best possible sense, by the species being found thriving still. Unfortunately, the overall area the bird is likely to be present in is somewhat sensitive in that the territory is scrutinized by India, Pakistan and Chinese Authorities and wandering around at will is not to be encouraged, nor finds enthusiastic support!! That a species with, one suspects, such a limited distribution and restricted population is still surviving is quite an uplifting story in my book. With so many "negative" reports coming to the fore nowadays, a good news story such as this, and earned in such a testing fashion, is more than motivating, and at the very least!!  

The RSPB.....what is its future?

Over the past few days I've read, and then re-read, the interview article in the most recent RSPB Birds magazine between its Chief Executive, Mike Clarke and Adrian Pitches, BBC journalist. Repeated readings don't bring any more clarity to my conclusions and endless questions seem to spring from the text.

I suppose such interview articles suffer from space restrictions, the selection of priority messages and even the style of presentation, all of which need to be taken into account. Additionally, in knowing Mike Clarke, who is someone for whom I've the utmost respect, everything within the details presented will have been sincerely expressed and the result of forensic considerations. However, even within the comfort of such knowledge, I still feel confused!!  Several of the issues portrayed are diffuse, even muddled!

From the outset I have to say that I would champion the RSPB as the  bird conservation organization in the UK and recognize its international contributions too. I've also to say that, other than to a gradually diminishing and past generation, I don't feel its Royal Charter, or the "Royal" prefix to its name, is of much relevance nowadays or confers much benefit. Additionally I've less personal interest in the name debate than in other aspects. What I do feel is necessary is to have confidence in the presence of a dynamic organization, with robust policies and actions, aimed at conserving the UK's birds. As time goes by I feel less convinced such is the case, partially by the fact the RSPB appears to be suffering from the "dilution syndrome" of trying to address everything. Proposals to extend such an approach further therefore worry me!!  Setting aside involvements with iconic global species , the RSPB's apparent pursuit of some issues "at home" bear scrutiny, particularly associated with farmland birds, upland waders and raptor persecution.  Assurances that "things are going on in the background" bring insufficient comfort when no appreciable change takes place on the ground!!

But what is new about "Stepping up for Nature"?  Reserve management has surely embraced it already , as has education, promotional literature and advocacy......the RSPB , and to its credit, can hardly claim, therefore, to have ignored the wider needs of bio-diversity. And it can hardly be claimed that the Society has not reached out to industry as its close ties with United Utilities, Crossrail and many others signify. Similarly , to signal it needs to reach out to the public, other than "traditional supporters" , is a nonsense given its wide dispersal of advertising,  promotional literature, television programmes and media output. "Stepping up" even more intensively within ones own operations I can understand, but suggesting there are hitherto ignored sectors is more difficult to accept.     Hmmm.....interesting.

The twice quoted reference to " saving nature is too big a job for any one organization" almost suggests a plea for collective working amongst the various conservation organizations in the UK, or even open season for take over bids!! Recognizing the truth in the statement, one is prompted towards the observation that no single organization has actually been claiming that responsibility or credit. The statement surely underlines the need for agreement, solidarity, collective working and the like.

Unless, of course, in terms of competition, the quest for prominence and market share, one wanted it to be seen that, in addressing the needs of all nature and widening the remit for birds in an international context,  that yours was the single organization shouldering the responsibility. It would be interesting to know how prominent a role "marketeers" had played in the considerations admitted to, as opposed to those concerned about bio-diversity.

And what of the current membership, and staff for that matter, caught up in this metamorphosis under consideration? At the moment the approach appears to be one of embracing a gradual, almost benign, introduction of the details relating to change. Clearly that process will end at some point when the first obvious steps need to be enacted. It would be nice to think that the various objectives and policies would be available or set out with some degree of precision , as opposed to simply being announced in a very informal and imprecise way.

However"soft" the current message, there appears to be a conclusion already arrived at that, as far as the UK's nature is concerned, "we know best and we'll be steering the ship".  I would hope the Wildlife Trusts, Butterfly Conservation and many others take no exception to that view. Now, unless there are far reaching discussions going on with others, I could imagine such utterances might set certain teeth on edge and even alienate some people. Whilst I agree that, particularly in the current national climate, there is a strong need for advocacy set against a  lukewarm approach to anything environmental by the Government, it is not a time to offend ones own relatives!!!

I fear that, whilst the article in Birds magazine may have been an attempt to announce gently a few changes of focus and intensity in approach,  its imprecision will have done more harm than good and demand more details to be available in the future. It's certainly something that has grabbed my interest and curiosity.

Winter arrivals. 23.10.2012..

Nowadays, given the number of sites I cover, it can take me three separate days to visit all of them to complete the monthly BTO WeBS counts ( waterfowl counts ). This planning can be frustrated by weather conditions, particularly as far as Outer Loch Indaal is concerned. The "outer" part of this  large sea loch can so easily be adversely affected by sea conditions and even sunny weather!!  Two days ago , it was glorious weather, warm and sunny, but the sun-dappled sea and reflected light made it impossible to see much at all! By contrast today was perfect......grey, calm and good light conditions.

My interest at this time of year is heightened not just by the fact that our wintering duck numbers are arriving, but that numbers of Great Northern Divers begin to increase too, sometimes quite significantly. Yesterday was no exception with at least thirty seven (37)  in the outer loch, including one group of seventeen ( 17). Most are present in loose groups of three or four, some are single birds, but the occasional large group occurs too. Surprisingly, on a large extent of water, they can be easily overlooked and a need to exhaustively scan each sector is necessary. This is the best time to try and get a good count of birds either returning to winter or using the loch in transit. Undoubtedly some birds move off elsewhere and, as the winter moves on, birds remaining become more dispersed as they seek for food. Mixed age parties are regular at this time of year, with some adult birds still in resplendent summer plumage, but with immature birds present too, suggesting such groups travel together. Whilst seawatching provides ample experiences of single birds, duos or trios flying through on particular days, suggesting birds possibly congregate immediately on first arriving, their presence at this time of year is a salutary reminder that winter is around the corner and that we will now be playing host to this magnificent species until next Spring.

Other species present were Common Scoter (110 ), all of which were disturbed by a boat and showed no birds with white wing panels (!) and also that the majority of which were male birds too, Northern Eiders (30), several Red-throated Divers, Razorbill and Black Guillemot. The next task is to cover Inner Loch Indaal, which is generally much more sheltered anyway, carries a wider variety of species, in higher numbers, as well as more of the species already recorded. Altogether, good birding!

Later, whilst checking some small lochs I also went through a mixed flock of geese ( Barnacle, Greenland White-fronted, and Grey-lag ) and came across one of the Lesser Canada Geese which are around at present. Despite it being previous to the end of October, geese are already moving around the island more, away from their initial  "gathering grounds" at Loch Gruinart. The groups of Whooper Swans which stayed a short while, and conveniently fed on barley stubbles, appear now to have moved off.  October is by far the best month to see numbers of these birds moving through Islay, sometimes never even making a stop as they fly onwards to their wintering grounds in Ireland. Sometimes a particular October day can be magically enhanced by the arrival of several large groups of Whoopers arriving  at Loch Gorm in NW Islay within a given "time window", suggesting they left Iceland around the same time. After resting, preening and a little feeding , all accompanied by their wonderful quiet bugling notes, they can begin to leave in successive skeins. The calls increase in volume as if encouragement and  excitement passes down the line and they head off with unerring accuracy toward Ireland, sometimes visible in the far distance, sometimes not!  A great sight in any autumn!  From now on we might also "receive" the arrival of odd family groups of Whooper Swans, as they can sometimes arrive a little later than the main passage of birds and then remain with us on some favourite loch over the entire winter.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

An island tour! 19.10.2012.

Stepped outside more routine survey work and joined Steve, Sarah and Sami Sankey for a day's birding around Islay. A family holiday from their normal base in Orkney was blessed, thankfully, with half reasonable weather and today was no exception. As might be expected a long and varied involvement as " conservation players" over the years meant there was a lot of information to exchange ( and a bit of gossip! ) resulting in a really great day out.

We headed out for the Oa, called in to see the Warden, walked the full path circuit, had great views across to Northern Ireland and had some good birding. Time invested in pinning down Golden Eagle finally paid off, with a flying bird east of The American Monument  and, then, success in our finding two adult birds perched on high rocks allowing then to survey a vast area of their territory. Hen Harrier and Peregrine also "fell" to our patience but, best of all, was the real contextual experience of seeing Whooper Swans migrating south, doubtless on their way to their wintering grounds in eastern Ireland or, perhaps, even further afield. They advertised their presence first of all through their soft, bugling calls, which nonetheless carry a great distance. Eventually we found them , a single line of thirty birds way out over the sea , gradually making their way southwards against the distant and somewhat misty outline of Ireland.  A nice memory to retain.  Whilst the Oa can appear to be devoid of birds, persistence can pay off. An examination of the "food crop" field at Kinnabus provided some tremendous views of Twite and, later, odd thrushes and Goldfinch were seen.

Out eastwards towards Claggain Bay with a whole variety of species on offer.....Kestrel, Merlin, 6 Great Northern Diver in a party, Red-throated Diver, Red-breasted Merganser, all picked up despite the rather moderate visibility.  Finally, a stop up at Loch Indaal to pull in a few more species and bring to an end what had been a really enjoyable day!

And did you realise Islay to Orkney , or vice versa, can be done in a day!!! Leaving on the 0700 hours ferry from Islay to the mainland (2 hours ) , driving north east up the Great Glen and then up the A9 (7 hours ) and then another ferry to Orkney ( 1 hour ), plus a bit of relief here and there, makes it entirely feasible. Impressive, eh!!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sometimes "Common" is better quality!!

Morning spent covering a couple of BTO Winter Thrush Survey squares and also counting a WeBS site I had too little time to cover yesterday.  Certainly here on the west coast of Islay no migrant thrushes were in evidence and I suspect none from Iceland have actually come through this far as yet.  I'm still convinced the Redwings and Fieldfares we see on Jura and eastern Islay are Scandinavian birds that flood westwards , particularly down the Great Glen, as well as Icelandic birds eventually filtering eastwards. .

Whilst near the coast north of here a flock of around 30 Barnacle Geese came in hurriedly from out at sea, calling wildly, continued east over the Rinns until they reached Loch Indaal and then turned abruptly north towards Loch Gruinart, the traditional area where virtually all birds arrive and congregate at before gradually dispersing more generally. It's good to see such navigation by birds "in action", particularly when they've obviously overshot their initial arrival point!

Eventually returning home I was gazing out of the front window, cup of tea in hand, when I noticed a redpoll feeding in the garden. Carefully reaching for binoculars I managed brief,  but good , views of a Common Redpoll , which then flew off together with another bird I hadn't picked up. Textbook views and confirmation that we do get them coming through occasionally. Some people maintain they breed in Northern Scotland, in the Outer Hebrides and on Orkney, but certainly all breeding season birds both on Islay and Jura are Lesser Redpoll. Odd birds are seen in spring in west Scotland and may well be from a more northern population, who knows?

News has emerged today that the RSPB has lodged a complaint with the European Commission against the UK Government for what it feels has been an altogether questionable approach taken by Natural England / DeFRA in resolving issues relating to the mismanagement of Walshaw Moor in West Yorkshire, which operates as a grouse moor. Rather than go into details, may I encourage people to read the entries on Mark Avery's blog (Wuthering Heights 28 ) and today's entry from Martin Harper, Director Conservation, RSPB, (  Walshaw Moor. ).  It's fascinating reading and represents only the third time RSPB has ever done this!!  It won't endear the Society to this  supposed, and self-appointed, Greenest Government ever whose embracing of conservation matters is lukewarm at best.  Well done RSPB.  More importantly the final outcome from all this might have far reaching effects on how our uplands are managed in the future and the nature of the regulations such enterprises operate under.  Can't wait!!!  Other entries and comments are within the Raptor Persecution Scotland website and make interesting reading. I'm surprised , and heartened at how many people have come out and congratulated the RSPB, but also expressed relief that the Society has , finally, bared its teeth and taken such a positive stand on the subject. Have no doubt that the Society will not be flavour of the month with DeFRA or the Government generally, but I suspect that, privately or otherwise, there will be many in Natural England who will welcome the move. Given the inevitable "atmosphere",  it will be interesting to see how the newly appointed Secretary of State for the Environment and the long standing Minister, Richard Benyon , react to the matter, how the eventual results of the Law Commission Review will emerge once the consultation period is over and what the pending review of Natural England results in. With a Government relegating "the environment" to a position of little or no relevance, to pursuing a barely disguised policy of deregulation in favour of economic development, come what may, and one which has drastically slashed the budget of Natural England , one might imagine retaliation might figure within their response in some  "official context". We shall see!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A hopeful dispassionate look at Vicarious Liability!

Over the past couple of years or so the subject of Vicarious Liability has figured large within the news, the outpourings on web sites and, in particular, the discussions taking place on the latter and similar Forums. Let's backtrack a little though!  The offence of Vicarious Liability had been embraced in legislation in Scotland and was done so as part of the WANE Bill ( Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill )  brought in under the aegis of , then Minister, Roseanna Cunningham.  Under the devolved process such legislation had no application, of course, in England or Wales.

Following that I seem to remember a few comments coming forward from the "conservation sector" as to it being unworkable!  However, a question was raised in the Houses of Parliament as to why it was not being embraced by Westminster and received a rebuff from DEFRA Minister, Richard Benyon, who said, in effect , that there was already sufficient wildlife laws in existence to do the job!

At some point in time around then , or following it, an independent E-petition was registered by a lady, Chrissie Harper,  last October calling for a debate in Parliament on the subject.  Chrissie runs an owl rescue centre in southern England and, therefore, has a direct association with raptor persecution issues. All this seems very logical and sensible and utilises aspects of the democratic process we are all now encouraged to utilise. At this point there seems to have been a slight error of judgement, indeed, I feel there may have been a bit of "firing from the Harper hip" that could be held slightly responsible for what then followed. I've made this point before and still feel it has relevance! However, it is a point , not a major criticism. Previous to the E-petition being registered I don't believe any discussions or approaches were made to the RSPB, amongst others, to call for their assistance in generating signatures for the petition. That was a mistake in my view. They certainly were made afterwards, with several E-mails appearing publicly. Many people signed the petition early on in the process, including me, and continued to promote it. However, the RSPB was lukewarm at best, although it got a mention in various Blogs and in their E-newsletter. That is not the same as an upbeat, outward expression of support and they should now be big enough to acknowledge the fact!!  A cynic might even conclude that, because they weren't in the driving seat, they'd decided to pursue a separate, independent , but clearly linked line of action attributed to them only.

The E-petition foundered.  The low level of signatures  is a bewilderingly pathetic expression of the disgust and opposition we so often see expressed on web sites, letters to the media etc., despite attempts to promote it widely. That's an aspect to investigate at a later date, as it involves a large section of our Society pledged , very actively, to a hobby they care passionately about and who express opinions on it frequently, but who somehow remain detached from the democratic process. However, when the RSPB ran a "signature campaign" related to raptor persecution,  it secured the interest of over 200,000 people, double the threshold required for an E-petition to be considered for debate in the House. Incidentally, achieving the 100,000 threshold of signatures does not automatically secure a debate;  all topics are scrutinized by a Committee first. However, in this case, a large number of signatures on a petition backed by the acknowledged national bird conservation organization in the UK would have assisted greatly. So , why has the RSPB dragged its heels or avoided the issue?

In recent times much has been made of the review of wildlife legislation in England  carried out by the Law Commission and which is currently out for consultation.  The RSPB are encouraging people to respond and, indeed, calling for them to draw attention to the , yes, you have it, details relating to Vicarious Liability! Now, at the time when their support was being called for the details emanating from the Law Commission weren't public. The RSPB may have suggested the topic to the Law Commission for consideration within their review, but one doubts if guarantees for inclusion would have been given by the latter. So why not offer support to a petition that exhibited the feelings of conservationists within the UK?  Perversely, the absence of support from the RSPB would suggest to some that they weren't in favour of it!!  We now have what might be seen, charitably,  as a somewhat hypocritical position being assumed by RSPB, who are openly promoting the need for Vicarious Liability to be adopted.

Whilst the RSPB, to its credit, has openly attempted to explain its position ( see the correspondence on the Raptor Politics website ) and has admitted the situation revolves around tactics, I think they continue to overlook the interpretation that will be attributed to their more recent position by most people, namely that they avoided an involvement.

So where does that leave the issue?  Consultation responses to the Law Commission review are being called for by the RSPB, and doubtless many people will assist. I doubt that, numerically, that number will equate to the number of signatures that might have emerged had the RSPB put its weight behind the E-petition. Can the current situation be improved upon? Of course it can!

In my view it will do no harm at all for the RSPB to be a late hour advocate of the E-petition. A call for action from its members to sign the petition, coupled with press releases promoting  its decision, will send an initial message to the Government, to DEFRA and to those administering the results from the Law Commission review, that underscores the value attributed to the Vicarious Liability clause. Note, this is a call for action,  not a call for an apology, nor an admittance that they "got it wrong".  I'm not a supporter of "hue and cry" politics, or retribution being awarded bruised egos, but what can be demonstrated here, via a single afternoon's effort, is solidarity with a whole host of people calling for an end to raptor persecution. What is needed now is for the RSPB to return to being a campaigning organization, taking pride in its policies and research results, promoting the needs of both, but not by fighting for change whilst being part of the Establishment, which is what appears to have happened.  Justified condemnation and criticism is not something to be reticent about, is something to be pursued with confidence whilst standing tall and independent.  The overall mission is surely to promote conservation policies with clarity and gain the widest support for change that is possible. Somehow a little bit of confusion has crept in on this issue that certainly needs to be sorted out. We'll see what happens!

 A month still remains within which action supporting the petition can be organized. Not to do so, whilst openly advocating that support should be expressed for Vicarious Liability within a consultation exercise, makes no sense. I sincerely hope that, if the RSPB turns its back on this opportunity, the support for Vicarious Liability within the above Law Commission process ultimately works out. If it doesn't then this potential use of the petition process is a wasted opportunity that might otherwise have resulted in a wide debate on a subject we are all concerned about........raptor persecution.  Is there a choice really?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Arrivals and departures!!

Well, in the spirit of a rejuvenated Blog, I'd hoped to have displayed at least one photograph of a Draconid meteor given a shower was predicted for yesterday evening and beyond nightfall. The forecast was for a "handful of languid" meteors suggesting it was never going to be that spectacular. By contrast, Draco has been known to produce many thousands of meteors within a given hour, but I'm not at all sure when. Anyway, cloud cover  ruined the potential of the whole episode, despite a couple of checks overnight.

A sunlit dawn was all too brief in extent, but provided a good backdrop to the roaring of Red Deer stags from the confines of the forestry beyond the grass moor looking east from the house. I suspect the newly arrived holiday makers at the cottage close to the plantations thought they'd somehow transferred to the African savannah such was the level of noise in the calm conditions.

Taking advantage of the good visibility and calm sea I spent the morning seawatching. Northern Ireland was clearly visible across the wide expanse of water moved only by a slight swell.  Gannets, a few auks and Kittiwakes were moving south together with a fine Great Northern Diver in seemingly full summer plumage and a dark phase Arctic Skua. A group of 23 Whooper Swans flew north along the coast having been heard in their approach for ages from somewhere south of Islay. Later, what I suspect was another group way over towards Ireland, followed a more normal route southwards towards their wintering grounds A little later a flock of Golden Plover came in off the sea from the south west and headed off  east, again birds undoubtedly gaining a " navigation fix " whilst on passage. We tend to presume birds move along very fixed lines of passage , but not always. At the height of the goose arrivals there's always some Barnacle Geese that seem to overshoot Islay and can then be seen excitedly moving north to gain their intended point of arrival at Gruinart to join up with the rest of the wintering population. Later on there are obvious exchanges with Northern Ireland, usually weather induced, which proceed on a much more leisurely and intended basis!!

In advance of any numbers of winter thrushes arriving, and by utter contrast, the presence of  wintering Robins is already noteworthy. Individuals seen alongside tracks, in isolated bramble patches and small tangles, pays testimony to the fact that the species is quite an early arrival in autumn to supplement what is not that high a breeding population.

Friday, October 5, 2012

RSPB's call for action! Stop Press!

It would be uncharitable to be too critical of the RSPB as far as action against raptor persecution is concerned as addressing the actual  problems on the ground forms part of its core activities via its Investigations Section.  However, periodically promoting the Society's concerns more generally on the subject , as opposed to mounting a full blown campaign against those responsible, which is what I believe is currently needed,  has been the approach taken. Whilst not being in agreement with it , I respect the decision taken!

Today, riding on the issue of the Society's Birdcrime 2011 report, (download it, read it! ) comes an altogether more robust clarion call from Martin Harper ( Director Conservation ) against which I would offer every ounce of support. Entitled "Birdcrime: it is time for action"  it lays out very fairly what the RSPB wishes supporters to pursue. Read the whole article on Martin Harpers Blog
( )

Sadly, I have to agree with the sentiments expressed about Hen Harriers, namely that this may well be the final opportunity to reverse the recent trends which have brought the English population so close to extinction. This is  now the time to act, your help is being called upon!  Don't leave it to others.

Bird Blog bonanza!

Have been "tied to home" for the past couple of days awaiting calls and contacts from afar!  Managed to get another Winter Thrush Survey completed, albeit a nil return, but had passage Hen Harrier and Merlin moving through south through the SW Rinns of Islay as a consolation.

I used some of the time to take a look at a whole series of Blogs and websites to do with birds. It could be a habit hard to break if you got hooked as there are a  LOT !!  Somewhat idly I began to critically appraise them on the one hand and  ( unashamedly ) look for approaches and techniques I might adopt myself!  One immediate lesson was discovering some are given over to 90% photographs and 10% text and make you want to throw your camera equipment away!!  The lesson is clear though, pictures are a bonus and certainly something to consider, even confirmation shots or landscapes.

Some Blogs are simply a jumbled mess of reportage, are badly written with no real story line and are of questionable value due to being addressed to known "members" covering a local area. Sadly they're also so uniform and repetitive they could be written in advance.  Others are enviously brilliant!!  Where do they get the time from?  Like all good reporters too, they always seem to be at the right place at the right time and even manage a couple of photographs of competition quality !! I suspect more than a little forward planning goes into some entries, which is perhaps a lesson in itself.

Some sites simply promote guiding services, or accommodation, with tour reports, local site details, suggested itineraries and so on. You could have a very pleasant "Virtual Reality" type tour of , say, Australia by looking at a whole succession of linked sites for a given area or country! But these sites play a vital role when planning a trip, either at home or abroad, when it's necessary to get up to date details. A mention must also be made of the major holiday bird tour companies whose websites often include access to endless reports of past visits to various countries but who, understandably , don't always reveal the precise details of areas visited for specialities. Closely allied to these are the major websites we all know about, which catalogue and make available trip reports, and which can be blamed for many a lost afternoon or evening when time itself moves into a vacuum, then filled with an enthralling array of information relating to visits you'd love to emulate.

Undoubtedly there are Blog sites and web sites that provide useful information, but are designed to serve the "reputation" of the author in one way or another and, very often, underpin an accompanying commercial activity.  Attractive, yes, but aren't egos boring and repetitive in nature?  There are sites and Blogs directed at campaigning ( I'm one of them at times! ),  from which the revelations  can be a clarion call for action and even shocking at times. However, some are little more than sites pursuing a self-serving process of recrimination and criticism of others, are lacking in balance, usually big on exaggeration and distortion and, despite their best efforts, result in producing something little better than pedantry. But we support free speech after all ( you don't have to read it of course ! )  and I'm convinced fringe views are often read for entertainment value, as opposed to securing any change from, or having influence on, the views of the reader.

Whilst I suspect all this has been little more than a scratching of the surface of what is available, it's certainly worth the effort. Notwithstanding the design and style elements , I've been transported into the delights of warbler passage in North America, raptor watching in Nepal and the results from pelagics. However, we've all surfed the web and enjoyed similar "discoveries" , but deliberately looking at the style and approach of other people  completing a similar activity to yourself is beneficial . There's also lots of advice around as well, for example, take a look at the list of recommendations Mark Avery includes in his book, " Blogging for Nature".

 Sadly, besides discovering new sites, some favourites "die" too, as time to maintain output is squeezed or removed altogether. Overall though, it's a fascinating exercise nonetheless and has resulted in my list of Bookmarked sites now being at an all time high!! From a personal perspective it's certainly an exercise that is well worth the effort, highlights a number of pitfalls and suggests many new ideas to follow. Armed with all this wisdom I suspect many of the Blogs I've put out in the past might carry a "comment" at the bottom saying, "Can do better". However, I was a bit unprepared for the immediate reaction which came from a colleague, quite spontaneously, when I discussed the topic with him last evening.  "You're putting out too much feature material", he said. " I know you feel writing up what you've seen during the day can seem similar to what you wrote about the week before, but people like reading the routine birding stuff as well. Don't give up on Hen Harriers , but let's hear what you're up to."  He did give some slightly more colourful instructions about not reporting  too frequently particular species he rarely encounters !!  On reflection, I think he's right and that it's healthy to be prepared to take a step back, and then embrace, a fresh approach to the routine.  So it looks like variety, photographs and a few other tweaks are necessary, and that the time spent delving into various Blogs and sites has not been wasted.       Anything to avoid the "Can do better"!!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hen Harriers.......satellite tracking and transparency

Now, I admit I've possibly an over-healthy interest in matters affecting Hen Harriers but, in my view, still too little appears  to be being done to address the appalling persecution of the species in the UK.

Until 2012 the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire had been the main English breeding stronghold of the species for over forty years. None bred in 2012 and it appears that only one pair did breed successfully elsewhere in England. This signifies that the battle against persecution of the species in England has virtually been lost. Similar depredations occur elsewhere in the UK so the situation, in reality , is much worse. Sadly birds moving south, following a breeding season in Scotland, are likely to be met with an onslaught of prejudice, illegal persecution and intolerance, with roosting birds being deliberately targeted. At the next national survey of harriers I think we can predict the results will be disastrous if the current situation is allowed to continue. At an earlier point in time than that survey I think we can also predict the results for Hen Harrier resulting from the  BTO Atlas Project, when they emerge in 2013, will be less than heartening. Today I've no intention of drawing attention yet again to the activities of that selfish,arrogant sector of our society who are responsible for such persecution.  Instead I'd like to reflect on what we see forthcoming from our conservation organizations and other agencies, both official and voluntary, in terms of pursuing change
and question whether we might expect more.

First of all, let me draw attention to what would assist greatly in identifying where such persecution is concentrated. It's generally accepted that satellite transmitters attached to birds are a tool that, nowadays, will extend our knowledge of bird movements beyond our wildest expectations. If we consider Hen Harriers then this information, and the ability to be absolutely fascinated by following such movements, has been more than adequately provided for by a variety of organizations. Setting aside specific research objectives, or even political ones (!), simply take a look at the plethora of results provided by the following, (Langholm Moors Project,  Highland Foundation for WildlifeHen Harriers in IrelandRaptor Track Project. ). Now one common theme that characterizes these projects and their websites is that the results arising from their tracked birds are openly available for all to scrutinize. Sadly a proportion of these celebrated birds are lost, some naturally,  but some meeting a less than dignified end, the final resting places of all being identified by their conveyed technology.

So why, in the light of this highly developed and most useful technology, has Natural England repeatedly rejected or ignored calls for the specific details of the journeys and losses of birds carry satellite transmitters under the aegis of the Hen Harrier Recovery Project to be made available publicly?  Clearly there are no limits placed on how these results might be represented as the above web sites show. Clearly the details arising from the dead birds  should assist in pinpointing the areas , even the individual landholdings , where the particular individual met its end. Notwithstanding the fact that it has been public money that has funded the project,  what justification might be behind this intransigence and secrecy? One imagines the non-disclosure results from the Tory Government, via its Minister at DEFRA, the Department under which Natural England operates, issuing specific instructions aimed at protecting the private shooting estates that would otherwise be identified and undue attention then being focussed on their "management activities"  Whilst there has been some tacit admittance by DEFRA that there is an association with the loss of these birds and heather moorland habitat they appear to maintain it is difficult to pinpoint precisely the location where a bird met its demise.  This response either smacks of a deliberate cover up or that a review needs to take place of the technology they employ given both the corpses and transmitters from other birds have been recovered in the most austere of circumstances, e.g a Black Stork lost in the mountains of Morocco!  Setting aside that DEFRA and officials within Natural England are obviously willing to subscribe to both a dereliction of duty and neglect if one examines their position against the very conservation project they sought to promote, i.e. the protection and improvement of the English Hen Harrier population,  the situation is actually worse if one then looks at the position of the voluntary sector.

Whilst the RSPB has spent an almost countless sum of money both promoting and pursuing the plight of the Hen Harrier it almost seems now as if they have admitted "enough is enough". Confronting the Establishment on the whole question of raptor persecution  appears to be something they have no stomach for and that the current circumstances will be dealt with under a PR policy, " Unfortunate extinctions we have had to accommodate!".As we are often assured via the statement, " there is much going on in the background" or similar, can we have any confidence in such given the apparent absence of direct initiatives.  If such declarations simply express more hope than intent, then the situation is wholly unacceptable in my view.  The RSPB is the organization many of us look to to fight such battles and capitulation is out of the question.

And what of the political Parties?  The position adopted by DEFRA/Natural England, and outlined above, links with the almost corporate abdication of responsibility  for the natural environment which is being pursued  by the current Government ( The Greenest Government Ever remember ). The Tory position appears to embody  "we know best" and "we'll protect our own"  policies, coupled with a condemnation of any regulation designed to protect our natural heritage. The LibDems are consumed with zero carbon matters and little else, which leaves the Labour Party.

Well,  in the belief that Shadow Ministers might be interested in a topic the  current Government is clearly avoiding I've forwarded on to them various details in the hope that the matter might be investigated, questions raised and action initiated. Similarly I've distributed the information widely in the hope that other people will pick up on the issue, perhaps some readers might elect to write to their MP's on the matter themselves. If such occurs please let me know the outcome and " good luck".

BTO Winter Thrushes Survey.

Over past weeks the British Trust for Ornithology ( BTO ) has been making arrangements and issuing instructions associated with its forthcoming and latest survey  (Wintering Thrushes Survey ). Whilst the recent Atlas Project will have very effectively determined the distribution of our wintering thrush species, not as much is known about the precise use made of different habitats and foods, movements and other associated questions. The survey will run over both the 2012-13  and 2013-14 winters.

Full details are on the website ( see the above link ). Essentially the survey is designed to be completed on-line if at all possible, which cuts out a lot of unnecessary administration and costs. Single km.squares can be "self selected" and then surveyed , ideally at monthly intervals over the period late September-early April of the years concerned. Additionally " Core Squares"  have been randomly selected by the BTO throughout the UK and these will be subjected to additional analysis based on observations made within the strictly defined period of 27th December-10th January. Regional Representatives are tasked with gaining coverage for as many of these as possible.

At first glance the setting up process for self selected squares looks a little daunting ( mapping your route on a map and inscribing a polygon around the area over which you can make observations ), but it's actually quite fun! And first time goofs (!) can easily be erased.

So take a look at the above website and see if you can help. One visit per month ( or two or three on the same day ) is not too demanding and the route you select only needs to be between 0.6 and 2.0 miles. A sure fire way after December to walk off the effects of too many Christmas calories and, remember, 0.6 miles is only walking across a single km.square in a straight line, so you're not letting yourself in for a marathon!! Currently I'm busy trying to recruit volunteers here on Islay, Jura and Colonsay from within the small number of residents who are interested in birds. Sadly, and understandably, there is no element of  casual observations built into the survey , but visitors here over Christmas and New Year  (a tradition with some! ) can still play a part by assisting with the coverage of Core Squares if they are able.

There are other aspects to the main survey too! If you've limited time the "Birds and Garden Berries Study" may be something you can contribute to and observations can be conveniently linked to your very own garden! The "main" survey relates to the berry bearing bushes, shrubs or trees in your garden, the availability of berries through the winter and the use made of these by birds throughout the same period. A further component is associated with berry depletion......pretty important when you think of the implications of large numbers of thrushes being forced to move off from an area due to harsh weather and the food they may, or may not find, in different areas farther afield.  Finally , you can indulge in some real basic, observational work by carrying out timed watches of feeding birds and how many berries they eat.

So, opportunities for everyone to assist with.  You can even hum " the Holly and the Ivy" carol to keep up your spirits as you trudge around your squares and find birds are in short supply.   Best of luck!!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Grey lag Geese on the move. 27.9.2012.

Thursday saw me up on the Sound of Islay on a fairly quiet , but nonetheless interesting day. The confusing picture surrounding our resident Grey lag Goose population, which appears then to be supplemented by arrivals ( or dispersals ) from elsewhere in autumn continues to be intriguing at best!! Even worse, a good proportion of our breeding birds also then  move off elsewhere themselves as the early autumn insurgents move on!!

Thursday certainly added to the confusion! First came a skein of about 80 Grey lags moving high to the NORTH over Beinn Dubh . Next was a small party moving SOUTH down the centre of the Sound and bypassing Islay and Jura completely. Finally, a further party flew high to the SOUTH over the hills of the north east of Islay! Nothing remarkable you might say, except that, a few years ago, such observations would have been an absolute novelty!! Clearly, compared to recent years, more Grey lags than ever appear to be on the move in autumn in this part of Scotland and much remains to be discovered.   Recently a flock of Grey lag Geese arrived together with a couple of Snow Geese. Rather than get too excited by the latter ( and I certainly think the Rarity Forms can be set aside ) the arrival provided a possible clue to the origins of the birds, which is interesting in itself.  For several years a feral flock of Snow Geese has prospered on the Isle of Coll and I feel confident in suspecting this location as being that from which the birds originated. But were the Grey lags from further afield or from the neighbouring island of Tiree that has a flourishing population? More questions than answers again!!

Little else appeared to be on the move , although a couple of White-tailed Eagles moved over. Late summer and early autumn always sees numbers of Grey Herons strung out along the Sound originating from the heronry on the nearby DunLossit Estate. Groups of five or six are not exceptional and today showed a number of gatherings along the shore. More exciting was  watching the groups of Red Deer across an extensive tract of hill ground. The ever vigilant stags paced back and forth with no movement of potential competitors missing their scrutiny. One large stag, with his accompanying group of hinds nearby, suddenly charged at full tilt down the hillside and engaged with a lone individual that had, deliberately or otherwise, strolled into the obvious " no go " zone. Several vicious confrontations resulted until the contender turned around and trotted off, the apparent necessary behaviour signalling a dignified withdrawal!  The victor slowly went up the steep slope, back to his harem, which had remained unruffled throughout and continued their grazing unabashed. The last I saw of the contender was his movement towards a distant field full of grazing cows (!) ........ there's always one!!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Hen Harrier persecution yet again.

Whilst I know that I bang on about Hen Harriers and raptor persecution with increasing regularity,  I personally believe that the issues should be "kept alive" as much as possible. As I see it, no progress whatsoever is being made on the problem, the same old hackneyed concerns are being trotted out and, clearly, the discussions and efforts being made at trying to secure some progress with the shooting fraternity are failing miserably. Doubtless hopes are being pinned by some on the provisions, currently out for consultation, arising from the recent review on wildlife regulations undertaken by the Law Commission in that they will provide an opportunity for renewed debate and examination of the persecution problem. Such discussions are way down the road and it strikes me that something ought to be happening in the meantime, rather than let what will probably extend to at least eighteen months go by and be accompanied by even more losses.

In advance of the routine criticisms and suggestions, which various conservation organizations will now be working on associated with the above proposals, it would do no harm to indicate in the meantime what is really expected and what will be sought for via hard campaigning. Putting a shot across the bows, so to speak, will do no harm and signal that there has been enough talking and now the chips are down ( bowshot chips....sorry about that!! ). The errant proportion of the shooting fraternity responsible for the indiscriminate persecution of our birds of prey has singularly ignored opportunities to  embrace initiatives, such as supplementary feeding, and earn themselves a few "brownie points ". Similarly the responsible element within the ranks of grouse moor owners and managers have singularly failed also to convince their own peer group for circumstances to improve. Faced with such an unequivocal indication by some of the lack of a desire, or intention, to improve, then I feel the whole issue should be taken to the next stage without delay. The conservation organizations should unite in their opposition to such practices, roundly condemn those responsible with even more conviction than ever before and indicate that they are to launch an all out assault on the problem in the face of this almost tangible absence of co-operation.  Doubtless there'll be a lot of huff and puff, and ill constructed accusations of arrogance and such like, but the arguments should now become active, not passive, and initiatives aimed at change tabled widely and campaigned for. This is what many members of such organizations provide their financial support for and, at the moment, such required representation, aimed at bird protection, appears to be little more than going through the motions.

Some time ago the RSPB issued ideas about grouse moors being licensed. They were ridiculed and opposed, as one might have anticipated, but they should now be rolled out again and with firmer intention.Within such a system, operating licences would be issued via DeFRA, with the administration of the scheme given to Natural England as the body overseeing the subsidy process associated with SPA/SSSI's.  An accompanying "Charter of Operation", particularly where designated areas were part of the landholding, would also be issued, setting out what was required as far as management practice, and containing clear warnings of what the consequences of breaking the wildlife legislation would result in as far as that particular area was concerned. Where there was such a lapse, and a clear and proven breach of the law, then the licence would be revoked and all subsidies cancelled  for a period of either three or five years, although the responsibility for habitat quality management within any designated area would remain. In a perfect system, the normal court case dealing with the incident would also include the offence of vicarious liability being laid against the owner or manager. It is so important that this is campaigned for without delay. Additionally, especial penalties should be campaigned for if any such an incident involved Hen Harrier and  associated fines increased beyond the levels which are currently applicable.

Now, just a few thoughts about vicarious liability! Of course, landowners don't want it as it exposes their position enormously. For them to plead ignorance is a nonsense! Think about it!  If a gamekeeper were given utter independence in terms of running a shoot, and that then failed miserably at the end of the season, words and instructions would be issued without any doubt at all. It follows that, in operating what is a commercial enterprise, and it defies logic to think otherwise, such instructions would be given at the onset to the employee.. Additionally, the spectacle of an owner being asked if he knew of illegal activities going on over his Estate, and him denying the charge, would hardly go down well with the keeper if sanctions were brought against the latter in addition to the fines and costs. Taking the rap for one's employer ( unless a significant pay-off was involved !! ) is sheer stupidity!! Obeying one's employer, only to then be offered up as a sacrifice, would not go down too well either within the newly claimed "profession", however subservient the individual might be!!

So, in addition to licensing grouse moors it would seem sensible to licence the game keepers that practise what they so often tell us is their "profession". They are not being discriminated against as many other jobs require some form of operating licence. A successful prosecution would mean the licence being withdrawn and the means of earning a living withdrawn too, along with the gun licences they hold. And when it comes to the operation of these commercial enterprises, a proportion of which are undoubtedly securing their success through the parallel practice of illegality, it  might also behove Her Majesty's Customs and Excise to  look more closely at the complete operation. The potential "bonuses",  in the form of tips, which one hears finds their way into the hands of the keepers at the end of a days shoot one hopes are declared as such!! Similarly, a good friend of mine, who occasionally acts as a beater, says he's quite amazed at how many people are called Smith, and even Mickey Mouse, when one looks at the signatures on the requisite Estate form of those who receive the daily payment for traipsing across the moor and channelling the birds towards the guns. If push comes to shove, then clearly there are members of this whole community who are not too squeaky clean in a variety of respects and have much to lose as a result. I'm sure George Osborne would welcome such transparency and a concomitant increase in taxes to the Exchequer.

The beauty of such proposals is that they carry no threat whatsoever to the proportion of the fraternity who operate within the law, and do so proudly and efficiently.  The time has come for fine words and gestures to be abandoned, and for a concerted strategy to be drawn together and acted upon. Whilst much of the above might be seen to be unreasonable, pie in the sky, offend certain factions and so on, ( and I'm perfectly aware that I'm pulling teeth just for the hell of it ) it would serve to show that conservation organizations have had enough and that they are willing to  ACT. With an election not too far away, now is the time to start campaigning for change, to enlist the power of the newly recruited voters, whose youthful passions will respond to something aimed at protecting the country's natural heritage which is currently being deliberately despoiled by a minority. These, coupled with the ever increasing urban dwellers concerned about our countryside, are a numerical force which should not be ignored and need to be addressed directly. We all know what the problems are, and don't need conservation organizations to repeatedly explain such. What we need , and should be willing to provide support for, is representation, concerted action, professionally structured and inserted into the highest level of administration possible,  i.e the Government,  not with an accompanying request for scrutiny, but with a demand for attention and action!

Hirundines on the move. 6.9.2012.

Definitely a day of two halves! Whilst the morning was largely clear , the wind was gusting strongly from the south and, although it reduced later, conditions became even more unfavourable with the onset of rain and incoming mist. basically, when the weather turns like this on Islay, then things are in lockdown!!

The early morning migration watch showed Swallows to be on the move down the glen . Such was the strength of the wind that they were moving, very often in loose groups, over the expanse of the grass moor at a metre or less. Sometimes their progression was lost as they sought to move between different areas of Juncus at ground level. This made counting difficult as it was very much a question of a "now you see them, now you don't" situation. Somewhere between 150/200 moved through, mostly in small groups but with single birds too and even odd birds skimming down the road!  It petered out mid-morning previous to the poor weather commencing. This was nothing compared with much, much larger counts observed at notable migration watchpoints elsewhere in the UK and abroad. For a short period, it was redolent of the many autumn days spent standing at the Narrow Neck at Spurn in East Yorkshire with all the accompanying excitement of what might fly past next!! However, with the exception of a juvenile male Hen Harrier, no other species were involved! The harrier made its way southwards in a very determined fashion, hunched in against the wind and following an arrow straight route down the glen at around two metres height. Each day brings its own surprise! This was a welcome one as the usual breeding pair in this area seem to have disappeared after a consistent presence through the last few years! As yet the usual autumn presence and accumulations of Meadow Pipit haven't started, which will doubtless be a feature at some point in the immediate future.

At migration times I often ponder, several hours after witnessing birds on the move, how far they've actually travelled. Yesterday would have been a hard one indeed and a look at depictive weather maps, such as shown on XC Weather, portrays the extent to which  they are inevitably influenced by poor conditions at any stage of their journey. As we all know, conditions inevitably change and improve, sometimes get worse before improving, but a strategy of waiting it out would be better. Sadly the imperative to move, for them, is long established, whatever the conditions, and doubtless proves to be a final challenge for a proportion of them.   I'll always be hooked by migration!!!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Political migrants.

Well the long awaited Cabinet shuffle day finally arrived and, as ever, and in the widest context, changes directly associated with the Environment Ministry ( DeFRA ) were writ large within  announcements and one or two changes too with potentially large environmental implications, notably Transport with the current debate on airport expansion running wild.

I actually thought the dismissal of Caroline Spelman, previous Secretary of State for the Environment, was done with undue haste for some undisclosed reason. The media, on several occasions, simply announced  that she had lost her job with no accompanying debate on whether a "move" was in progress. One wonders whether pressing matters away from Parliament have possibly induced a personal choice to step down. Her abortive proposals to sell the Nation's forests will long be remembered as an issue that inflamed many, (  but so did the advice issued by the Party's "petrolhead", Francis Maude),  but she had some successes too. She initiated the research associated with the national capital and ecosystem services , which has been praised, she similarly progressed the carbon reporting rules, which will become applicable next April, and she personally brokered an agreement at the United Nation's Nagoya Summit on Biodiversity that was widely acclaimed by many. Apparently she was also prone to confront Cabinet colleagues on matters to do with planning reforms and Habitat wonders the extent to which George Osborne has had a Machiavellian influence on the changes!! She always seemed to me to be very earnest and sincere, to be getting on with the business in hand, as opposed to acting out some pre-determined role.

She'll be replaced by Owen Patterson about which very little is known, although one report I happened on stated there was a fear he'd pursue an "anti-green " agenda. A strange qualification for THE Department concerned with England's green and pleasant land, but possibly more in keeping with Party intentions. One of his major challenges will be to oversee the production of a climate adaptation strategy and, possibly, newly framed wildlife regulations arising out of the recent review completed by the Law Commission, which is out for consultation until November. Elsewhere in the Department,  David Heath has replaced  Jim Paice. Heath was the LibDem  spokesperson on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the late 90's  and also worked as a parliamentary consultant for WWF  in the early 90's., so one hopes such experience will assist.

Changes, one presumes, aimed at both achieving Tory policies, but making the Party acceptable  prior to the next election. I tend to think that they're their own worst enemies and it's simply a matter of patience on our collective part before change is secured!!

As an aside I couldn't resist putting in the following!! One of the last tasks Caroline Spelman completed on the 30th August was to confirm  the Chairman's position for Natural England ( that "front end", cutting edge body carrying out the whims of DeFRA when it comes to wildlife policy!! ). The gentleman concerned is a dairy farmer in Oxfordshire, Southern England, who has had an involvement in an "Acting" capacity for some time and who will receive a salary of  £72,740 for a three day week ( equivalent to a full time salary of £121,333 ). But this seemed to be the best bit!! On the 4th September the new industry-backed guide to funding and support for dairy farmers was launched by ( yes, you've guessed it !! ) Natural England. It just made me smile...... whilst the gentleman concerned looks admirably qualified for the job based on past accomplishments, I suggest he might have a word with Natural England's Press Officer relating to the timing of appearance of such "guides" in order to avoid scrutiny by the cynics!!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What should the RSPB be called?

Ever the polemicist, Mark Avery in his Blog today   ( see here Standing up for Nature ) poses the point that it is inevitable that the RSPB will need, at least at some stage, to consider a name change and review its future role. I confess that I read the entry with a great deal of interest and voted for one of the options for an alternative name which he provided ( see the end of this entry for the answer! ) . Do read the entry on Mark's Blog, and the Comments, as I believe it's important the subject is given a thorough airing and that the RSPB is made aware of the opinions being expressed.

After taking a look at the "local patch", which didn't produce much other than a "new" Starling flock of 79 birds, a Whinchat and a very pale Redpoll sp ( whitish underparts with very little streaking, bright forehead patch and small bill!!! ), which disappeared as quickly as it popped up and sat on a fence line, I returned home disgruntled and spent the rest of the morning in a blur of domesticity within which the above subject ( and the Redpoll )  kept recurring time and time again!!  I kept considering submitting a "Comment" to Mark's Blog, but then thought it would be a little unfair as I felt I had so much to express on the issue, so I decided to set out an entry on my own Blog.  I have to say that I'm also currently awaiting delivery of a copy of Mark Avery's latest book, "Fighting for Birds" within which a chapter considers the future of the RSPB. It will be interesting ( it might also be acutely embarrassing ) to see if any ideas are in agreement.

I have to confess that, over the twelve years or so since I took early retirement from the RSPB, I've become increasingly concerned over what might best be termed the "popular image " surrounding the Society. Given it tells the truth, it's not as universally popular as one might think, but I also personally believe it is not as forceful as it ought to be!!  In 1979 I felt a deep and sincere affiliation with an organization pledged to the protection and conservation of the UK's birds. Previous to that date I'd served on the Council of the (now named ) Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, been involved with the Yorkshire Naturalist's Union Ornithological Committee and worked, professionally, on environmental conservation issues for several years. A good mix of either distinct or inter-related responsibilities connected with wildlife and the environment. However, what filled me with joy when I joined the Society's staff was  the clear cut, major commitment to the UK's bird life which the RSPB displayed. For me, the picture was as clear as that which had motivated the good ladies of Didsbury, Manchester almost a hundred years previously when they campaigned to stop the commercial exploitation of egret plumes for the millinery trade. That eventually led to what we know as the RSPB today.

I was particularly impressed , and in awe, of the Society's willingness to fund major land purchases, be they on estuaries, in the uplands, freshwater marshes or remnants of Caledonian pine forest. That continues today and so it should! Its parallel willingness to confront Central Government, the Forestry Commission, MAFF, the River Authorities and many others in the cause of habitat protection displayed the steel and determination required of such a premier campaigning organization.  Sadly all that seems to be so much less apparent nowadays and I don't feel terribly convinced that lasting progress is being achieved either. Access to the machinery of government can be felt to be progress, but the value of independence can be a much stronger weapon to wield. Cosy meetings, and good manners, that lead nowhere in terms of enhanced regulation or legislation can be no substitute for the exposure and promotion of good sense , logic and the fruits of research. Whilst the Society may have achieved maturity, in the sense of acceptance by Whitehall and Brussels, the same old problems prevail and the political will of the powers that influence such aspects remains relatively unchanged. At some point the RSPB will have to confront the values of the Establishment,  which perhaps necessitates a process of reflection and where it would wish to see itself in ten or twenty five years time.

Nowadays I can't help feeling disappointed, coupled with real sadness even, that the fire in the Society's belly has dimmed and the stances of yesteryear are increasingly less obvious. The increasing widening of its areas of interest I suspect are diluting its ability to address a whole series of issues affecting the UK's birds. It's simply not possible to address everything and be all things to all conservationists!!  Now it may well be that all this is nonsense and is nothing to worry about. The flame of bird protection, as a beacon of intention, may be burning as brightly as that which has overseen the recent and current Olympic events, but the messages received, and the PR stance portrayed by the Society, appear to indicate otherwise. Much may be going on in the background, but it doesn't feel like progress, expressed concern or determined commitment. Meet-ups with previous staff members, retired staff members and those still involved with the Society all end up generating the same indictment.....the RSPB seems to have lost focus!! It doesn't please me to make such remarks, and I'm sure some will find it difficult to forgive, but the fact remains that such is the impression being arrived at!! As such it is a problem to be addressed, surely?

Within the UK we have endless organizations pledged to protecting and enhancing its wildlife heritage ( the Wildlife Trusts, Butterfly Conservation, and many others ). That we need a strong organization promoting the conservation interests of our bird life is of paramount importance. The RSPB was IT, but, somehow, now seems intent on diluting that self evident role. There is a crying need for an RSPB, whatever the name , and that is the starting point.  There are so many problems confronting our bird life that to try and address such alongside trying to deal with parallel problems affecting other wildlife can only lead to confusion and an increasing lack of efficacy. I am not saying such requirements on Society held landholdings shouldn't be addressed, but more general actions should be left to others. The attraction of a "biodiversity" name tag I'm , therefore, not convinced about!  I can't personally see the actual benefit of the Society being  "Royal" either. I'm sure it makes some people feel more comfortable , but I can't see any real benefits arising. Such a change would need to be an RSPB Council decision and undoubtedly involve more than a few discussions elsewhere if change was considered. As you can probably guess, I feel the Society should pull in its horns somewhat and concentrate on BIRDS.  But there's another dimension, and one that I never agreed with!! Indeed I even cancelled my subscription to the Society for a period!!  The Society's close involvement with land holdings abroad I feel to be wrong. I'm a great advocate of the BirdLife International "system" and the organization and, whatever the problems, I've felt it wrong that the RSPB should have got involved with land ownership and management abroad , particularly given the endless problems still remaining within the UK.  Support from the Society for BirdLife International by all means, and I'd even sanction a proportion of my RSPB subscription being used in that context, but the bottom line is that the Society should be addressing, and dealing  with, UK problems. Its expertise can be used to assist new countries entering into the BirdLife "family", and even financial assistance offered, but that should be the limit to involvement otherwise the exercise begins to smack of  "conservation imperialism" in my view.

So, where does this emotional rant leave us?  Well, I'd change the RSPB 's name to BirdLife UK and concentrate on birds!  The RSPB is already the UK partner for BirdLife  ( whose BirdLife International headquarters are situated, perhaps somewhat confusingly , in Cambridge, UK ). I don't believe a name change is likely to cause any permanent problems if the PR promotion of such is handled properly and the name firmly communicates the area of concern or operation. Coupled with a full review of future intentions, policies and the like , such a change could be a much needed renaissance in the fortunes of bird conservation in the UK.  What do other people think?  Let's have comments please, supportive or otherwise!!!

This is not a call for rejection!  The RSPB, and many other conservation organizations, will require our increasing support and commitment in the future whatever they choose to call themselves. However, in the meantime, I believe it to be in their interests for them to have a clear view of what their supporters think even if, in the short term, that can't result in change and may not be terribly palatable!!

Migrants trickling through. 1.9.2012.

A day of two halves in some respects as the fine morning later turned into a time of  "thin mist" and light rain. The wind had changed from the light northerly at the end of last month ( August ) to a quite blustery South-westerly. Yesterday, in the area I now treat as my "local patch" for monitoring migration  ( I might yet select out the most appropriate vantage point and contribute to the VisMig project ......just put this into your browser if you're interested! ), there had clearly been a small fall of 10-15 Northern Wheatear with a single "Greenland" Wheatear amongst them. Little else seemed to be involved and they quickly dispersed.

This morning , with the rather stronger headwind arising, it suggested odd other migrants involved in being swept southwards previously had been impeded in their progress , if not held up altogether.  Common Whitethroat, Whinchat, a few Northern Wheatears  and noticeable numbers of Meadow Pipit and Barn Swallow were in evidence. The latter remained around most of the day contrasting with the dispersal of the other birds, which I suspect gradually made their way down the Rinns peninsula.

A later attempt to settle in and try and age some Grey lag Geese met with no success as they persisted in keeping to undulating ground or being on the edge of a crop field where clear views were impossible. Malcom Ogilvie had enjoyed some considerable success with the same task on Friday ( 31.8.2012 ) when he'd managed to age a considerable number of the birds at Gruinart. The coming week promises somewhat more stable weather being forecast so some of the barley may be cut fairly soon, which will undoubtedly prompt a quick move out afterwards onto the stubble. Even the full moon is now in wane, which will mean the potential for night feeding is lessened and better circumstances emerge for viewing and counting the birds!!

Friday, August 31, 2012

BTO Breeding Bird Survey Report 2011.

The above report is the seventeenth in the series and , besides much other crucial data and information, includes trends in breeding bird populations in Scotland for 2010-2011 and 1995-2010. As such it provides an important barometer of change which can obviously be the basis for other comparisons and direct interest towards conservation policies. It's also fascinating to focus the results into one of local interest and see if the trends follow what is appearing at a much wider level.

In all 358 BBS were surveyed in Scotland in 2011, with 156 species being recorded within them of which the most widespread were Chaffinch, Willow Warbler and Woodpigeon. Of the 60 species for which trends could be calculated, eight have declined significantly and sixteen have increased significantly sine the commencement of the survey.

Birds that declined in Scotland between 2010 and 2011  included Kestrel, Skylark, House Martin, Mistle Thrush, Grey Wagtail, and Reed Bunting. The only one of these, in a local context,  that I would be a little sceptical about is Reed Bunting given we carry a seemingly widespread and successful population that , as yet, appears to be pretty stable. Of the other species, then I think full acceptance of the trends can be recognised.

Between 2010 and 2011 Bullfinch increased the most in Scotland,  along with four warbler species which showed large increases (  Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Whitethroat ).  Again, based on a gradually increasing incidence of sightings,  I would contend the situation on Islay mirrors the results in a modest sense.

The most severe declines since the start of the survey have been shown by Kestrel, Curlew, Lapwing, Swift, and Starling. I suppose, with the exception of Swift which doesn't breed on Islay, general agreement could again be offered to the conclusions and other species added to the mix too. Based on personal impressions assembled over the same period, species that might be added to the above, as far as Islay is concerned, are Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Snipe and even Peregrine, which I appear to come across with reducing regularity. Obviously such impressions are extremely subjective , which underlines the value of long standing surveys such as BBS and the need to have as many plots as possible in order to generate results for a wide ranging selection of breeding species.

In parallel to the above declines, the greatest increases since the start of the survey have been with Chiffchaff, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blackcap, Goldfinch and Whitethroat.  Certainly the incidence of woodpecker records on Islay has increased over the decade, although breeding, or even presence throughout a breeding season, has yet to be proven. Again, it would be difficult to deny that the presence of the last three species in the list appears to be more obvious than previously. Clearly seasonal differences occur and lend hope to what might then be a continuing positive trend. In this context the apparent numbers locally of Cuckoo and Whinchat this season have increased, but the numbers locally of Northern Wheatear appear to be reduced. In a very local context, on Wednesday, I had my highest count ever of Woodpigeon on Islay ( 28 ) at a single location, having had several other small parties during the day too.  Given its apparent success in urban environments, and a BTO Press release this week reporting it is now the third commonest visitor to gardens in the UK ( behind Blue Tit and Blackbird ), one could easily assume it might be gradually increasing generally. It's not that common a bird here, although widespread, so we may well be joining the common trend ( something we try hard to avoid on Islay in a non-biological context!!).

All such again emphasises the need for long term monitoring and the absolute value that the BBS survey brings to the debate. 

Grey lag Goose survey ! 28.8.2012.

Well, finally, the actual  "day" arrived after time being taken up previously with reconnaissance checks, coverage arrangements and the like. Fortunately the weather had improved too, following the poor showing over the couple of days beforehand. Today dawned fine, although some quite heavy rain showers developed later!

You may have seen previous entries on this subject as, for several years now, I've completed a survey  when the autumn accumulation of birds occurs on Islay. The early years were easy as the birds chose a limited number of spots and all of these could be easily monitored. Nowadays it's more of an island wide operation with several other people involved on the day in order to secure a complete picture.

When I first came to Islay in 1999 there was only a handful of breeding pairs of Grey lag Geese present and virtually all of them were around Loch Gorm, which was quite convenient given the house overlooked the whole area. Gradually numbers increased and autumn gatherings began to reach the low hundreds. It must be mentioned here that, in many respects, Islay is a potential paradise when it comes to the availability of breeding sites. These range from innumerable isolated lochans to offshore islands and islets and endless bits of suitable rough areas in between!!  In the early years the wintering population, largely remained close to where I now live in the south west of the island, was relatively static and numbered around a hundred or so, indicating some birds left and returned the following Spring. There has been much conjecture about the increase over the years, although I tend to think the solution is quite simple. In the early years there was never any real check on breeding numbers and I believe these increased exponentially, season after season, possibly recruiting "new blood" as birds returned after the winter ( from where,we don't know incidentally!! ). Small numbers of non-breeding birds were encountered and, in parallel, the breeding numbers continued to increase until, at its highest point the autumn gathering reached over 2,500. Following the moult the birds appeared to vacate many areas and congregate in the north of the island around Loch Gruinart and at the head of Loch Indaal.  As new feeding areas became available they became frustratingly mobile, but opportunities always arose to monitor "the assembled flock" when it chose to concentrate its activities at a small number of sites, which were close to one another, or at roost.

Now, of course, interest began to be raised as concentrated feeding on areas used by the wintering  populations of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese wasn't seen as desirable!! And, of course, from a farming viewpoint, the geese were seen as affecting managed pastures for cattle and sheep just as much as the above wintering birds. The situation also became complicated as undoubtedly Grey lag Geese on passage use Islay and fluctuating numbers occurred. Evidence for this came from first hand accounts at the RSPB reserve at Gruinart and birds actually seen passing  at sea along Islay's western coastline or down the Sound of Islay. Whatever the derivation, or the theorising, the fact remained that we were seeing increasing breeding numbers present on the island resulting in a similar increasing number in autumn. The extent to which these were supplemented by passage birds, moved off themselves, or remained in increasing numbers, was academic to many set against what was seen as an increasing problem affecting farming enterprises. As an aside, the numbers remaining in winter are beginning to be around 50% of the total congregation seen in autumn. Where the absent birds move to is anybody's guess and possibly a subject which will only be resolved when a sample of birds is caught and fitted with numbered collars which can be observed and reported upon.

With final figures yet to become available, the next step will then be to put everything together and compute what appears to be the outcome of this season, which is probably the easiest part of the task!!

I suppose a switch can now be made onto a bigger canvas!  The problem is also being experienced in several other parts of Scotland, either based on burgeoning breeding populations or increased presence in winter due to incoming birds from Iceland.  Understandably many farmers have expressed concerns about the situation and petitioned for action to be taken. Currently the Scottish Government is looking at the means by which such populations can be managed to ensure that a representative population remains in place, but that any exponential  increases are limited. Not the easiest of tasks I suggest!!  Licensed shooting can be carried out previous to the actual season commencing on 1st September each year and doubtless this has led to some containment of these populations, including here on Islay.

Another aspect which was central to concerns last year, but is less so this season, is the habit of the birds to enter ripening barley fields and generally cause mayhem!  Last year several fields were affected in this way, but the problem appears to be far more concentrated this season. With a full moon in evidence at present the  opportunity for the birds to feed during the night and undisturbed also becomes a reality. This is then followed by their use of sheltered, and far less obvious locations, during the day where they preen, rest and generally do very little!! Areas of moorland, isolated fields and even spells spent out on the larger lochs make counting a bit of a challenge.  Incidentally some of this barley is destined for use  by one of the island's accompanying important industries, that of producing malt whisky, although none of such fields appear to be affected this year

And so the story takes on an even more convoluted aspect and, I suspect, one might  hear strident calls for action from some who have never even set eyes on a Grey lag Goose !!

Monday, August 27, 2012

South easterlies aren't in favour at present. 26.8.2012.

The past few days seem to have sped by. Completing reports and setting up arrangements for the forthcoming survey of Grey lag Geese, plus some observation work on the latter, have eaten up more time than first anticipated.  Seawatching has acted as a  safety valve, but generated frustration at the same time, as passage has been pretty much routine and somewhat predictable. South easterlies aren't the best supporter of good passage!! Mind you, I feel guilty at complaining as watching endless Manx Shearwaters and Gannets  stream past interspersed with other species is something to feel very fortunate about.

As I write this after a night of strong ( yes, you've got it! ) south easterly winds, the rain is lashing on the windows and conditions outside are pretty rough. Various ferries in the Outer Hebrides appear set to be affected by the 45 knot winds, or already have been, but ours is currently described as being on "Normal Service". Whilst you don't really need to know all that it might well be an indicator that conditions are set to improve!!

Since writing about the "pulse" of passage of various warblers and chats, the situation seems to have settled down enormously with no similar movement taking place. As yet the noticeable "falls" of Meadow Pipits haven't occurred and the recurrent south easterlies might be playing a part in this scenario too by holding birds back

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wildlife legislation review.

Whilst I was in the midst of trying to bring a series of conflicting commitments into some sense of order, a task I never managed and which resulted in my having to cancel arrangements to go to the BirdFair , I was surprised to find a notification had arrived on my PC advising that the consultation documents relating to the Law Commission's review on wildlife legislation were available. Moreover, the consultation period is to run from 14th August to 30th November, 2012. It immediately seemed to me that the likelihood of final recommendations and the like appearing much before the middle of 2013  seems somewhat remote.

Well I have to say that , as might be expected from a review put together by legal eagles and their researchers, it's not the most user friendly array of suggestions I've ever come across. After more than a sufficient time to digest the analysis and accompanying proposals I guess many of us will still need to turn to our requisite advisers within the conservation organisations to determine whether our conclusions are correct and whether they represent  what is required!! I shall look forward to receiving comment too from my eldest daughter who, as a solicitor, will be able to detect any issues that are deliberately being covered in obfuscation. Sadly, I suspect there could be several, even many!

In the introductory announcement, the objective of simplifying the existing complex framework associated with wildlife law and placing same under a single statute appears entirely sensible and laudable. But then I was less convinced on reading that  there was " an intention to try and reduce the dependency on criminal law by allowing an appropriate mix of regulatory measures, such as guidance,advice and a varied and flexible system of civil sanctions.....such as fines and bans". Seems we could add wrist slapping to that as well, but we'll see!!

So, an immediate task it would seem, for the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and other similar organizations, is to unravel the core elements and , in turn , advise their members in straightforward language what they might include in any responses they are willing to submit. It is thirty years since the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 ( as amended ) came into being and, in the meantime , there has been much that has been amended so there is a clear need to update things. This, however, is an opportunity to ensure that what applies over the next thirty years is sensible, workable and adequately protects our natural heritage, be it sites or species.

If you wish to see the whole consultation document, or even a summary, then it can be found here (Review of wildlife law.) Happy reading!

Now, what do we find within this outpouring of wisdom and intention that refers to practical measures that one might anticipate as far as raptor persecution is concerned. Well, in the time I've had available, which was not much and I wasn't in a terribly charitable frame of mind either given my not being able to make the BirdFair (!), I discovered the old chestnut of VICARIOUS LIABILITY gets an airing. On first reading I'd best describe the proposal and the way its being handled as being one close to a cricketer smashing a huge "six" into the Pavilion and it taking some time to retrieve the ball as it trickles down between the rows of seats!! In the meantime everybody gets a breather!   "Kicked into touch",or a "long grass approach" might also be appropriate.  I would hope not, as it means the approach taken on other matters might equally lack definition. Mention of open questions, accompanied by no real firm resolve , time-scale etc and a hint that it depends on what is seen as necessary by the public and what happens in Scotland smack of prevarication and lack of intention in my book. I may be wrong, I may be doing the authors an injustice, but we shall see what a more relaxed reading and the views of others provides.

It does occur to me that if the mood of the country is in need of being tapped we could provide a response to the question even in advance of the Closing Date (30th November )  for the consultation. The ill-fated E-petition may yet have a role to play. The cessation date for this petition is 17 November, 2012, at 1638 hours to be precise ( only the UK could enshrine such detail!! ). This morning the number of signatures stands at 9949. Whilst the wording of the petition leaves something to be desired, the RSPB and others could give an early indication to the Government of its feelings on this subject by putting the might of the conservation membership behind the it. A simple announcement in all literature reaching the membership this autumn would be a start linked to other means ( press releases , Twitter, Blogs etc). It seems to me that this is the one major issue that can bring on a case of the vapours within the fraternity whose actions are aimed at reducing our raptor populations.  As I understand it this aspect of legislation is something the RSPB wishes to see brought forward. Giving the Government an early indication of what will then be argued for and endorsed within , hopefully, the many submissions on these proposals will do no harm and I'll be ensuring the idea wings its way to Sandy without delay!!