Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Hawk and Owl Trust supports E-petition !!

Following discussions with Barbara Handley  ( Chair of the Trustees, Hawk and Owl Trust ) , E-mails with HQ and a follow up conversation with Lin Murray (HOT PR Officer ) I can advise that the Trust has pledged its full support for the E-petition. The decision by the Trustees was unanimous and the petition will now be promoted to members and HOT's contacts at a variety of intervals over the next months and previous to the petition closing in February, 2014.

Such generous support is extremely welcome and will no doubt assist greatly in promoting the need for regulation on upland grouse moors and gamekeepers via a licencing system. Until recently the Hawk and Owl Trust played a role within the Environment Council's Hen Harrier Dialogue process, but withdrew after a prolonged period of discussion had resulted in no progress whatsoever. This followed a similar withdrawal by both the RSPB and the North East Raptor Forum.

Clearly the current situation needs a fresh impetus given the unrelenting level of raptor persecution which exists. The petition addresses that issue, in its broadest context, and hopefully will result in some serious consideration of steps aimed at eliminating the continuing persecution of our birds of prey by factions within the shooting fraternity who set themselves above the law.

Hawk and Owl Trust..........many thanks indeed !!.

If YOU haven't yet signed the petition, please follow the link below.

Licencing upland grouse moors and gamekeepers.

Thank you.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Winter's end, here is Spring. Well, not quite!

A brief report on the last two days when birding activities have been  deliberately limited to local areas!!  It has to be said that the last two days have not been terribly kind as far as birding conditions are concerned. Fine, yes, but cold, and with a very cutting easterly/north easterly wind, which undoubtedly has managed to limit bird movement northwards.

Whilst some half- hearted calling from Lapwing and Curlew has come off the hill, the numbers appear very low, if not transient, and their appearance has certainly not been accompanied by any improvement in numbers of other typically upland species like Meadow Pipit.  Skylarks now appear to have moved back off the hill and a couple of small flocks fed on lower in bye fields.   A regular Fieldfare flock remains, but a walk around the area has not turned up anything on either day that indicates that change is under way   A Sparrowhawk yesterday rested atop a small knoll, and looked decidedly tired as it eventually moved off, somewhat reluctantly , to a similar perch a short distance away. In some senses it had provided some of the best views of an utterly pristine male bird I've ever had. And that's it, in a local context, despite reports of various summer migrants  now emerging from farther south on the UK mainland. All in good time and at their own pace!!

A Poisoners Charter in any other guise!

In October,2012 the UK Government's Environmental Audit Committee, comprising cross party representation, recommended various measures aimed at tackling wildlife crime in the UK ( excluding Scotland ), which followed an extensive public inquiry into wildlife crime.

The recommendations included,

  • criminalising the possession ( not just the use ) of the poison Carbofuran.
  • introducing the offence of vicarious liability.
  • provide long term funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit.
  • improving the recording of wildlife crime.
Today, the UK Government has, in effect , turned its back on the whole suite of recommendations.  Rather than set out the various responses and comments from either the Chairman of the Environmental Audit  Committee ( Joan Walley, MP ) or the Government Minister, may I refer you to the Raptor Persecution Scotland website and the excellent and detailed summary of the whole story under

No need to criminalise possession of Carbofuran, reckons UK Govt.

You can also access the actual Government response through a link provided at the end of that article.

To say that I am increasingly unimpressed with  DEFRA's performance is an understatement, indeed that now time honoured phrase, "unfit for purpose " appears to be the most appropriate description one might apply!  An unbelievable litany of failure, be it relating to  Buzzards, bees, raptors, Marine Conservation Zones  and , now, wonders how far the list might ultimately reach?  But let's set the rhetoric aside and take a look at Carbofuran.

The first confirmed case of the use of Carbofuran as a poison associated with a wildlife incident was in Fife, Scotland in 1988. It would now seem to be the product of choice for those intending to poison wildlife.  The approval for the use of Carbofuran in any legal form was withdrawn in 2001. It was initially introduced as an agricultural insecticide for use on a variety of crops, but now its supply, storage or use is illegal. In the period 2002-2011 there were 643 bird poisoning incidents and, of those, 49% involved the use of Carbofuran
( see the RSPB BirdCrime Report 2011 ). Leaving aside those details for the moment, the question must be raised as to the availability of the poison and the origin of supplies.  Consensus within informed opinion suggests the substance may be being imported from abroad, including Ireland, or be part of a significant supply which was stockpiled.

The table above is extracted from the RSPB's BirdCrime Report 2011, see Page 14 ).

The table shows the statistics associated with the poisoning of individual species following the point at which  it was banned in 2001 until 2011.  Simply put, if a substance is banned completely, with no legal usage allowed, then the holding of it indicates an intent to use it for a wholly illegal and premeditated purpose. And yet our " Greenest Government ever" refuses to take an additional preventative step that might just assist the already deplorable situation relating to raptor persecution. It refuses to criminalise the possession of Carbofuran as it maintains there are sufficient provisions under pesticide legislation. And remember this was a step which one of the Parliamentary committees saw as being sensible.

Leaving such argument aside, but in the face of such compelling evidence of the use of this banned substance in recent bird poisoning incidents, it is the lack of commitment exhibited by the Government towards going the extra mile and showing its concern and intent towards improving , potentially, the situation that is disappointing. One really wonders what is the real and honest motivation lying behind this reticence?

The RSPB's BirdCrime Reports.

A couple of months ago I obtained from the RSPB copies of their  BirdCrime Reports for the years 2008 to 2011. In each of these annual reports a whole series of topical articles and details from various cases are presented.  Overall they make very chilling reading as they reiterate, year on year, that the scourge of raptor persecution and akin activities is simply not going away.

I have no intention of repeating the sad array of cases represented within the cases of the reports. However, in each of the reports a series of Appendices are given under the same titles and in the same order, as follows. These more than aptly summarize what has happened within the year concerned.

  • Incidents reported to the RSPB 2003-2008   { and then for subsequent periods }.
  • Regional breakdown of incidents reported in 2008.
  • Confirmed and probable bird of prey and owl persecution in 2008.
  • Confirmed poison abuse incidents during 2008.
  • Wild bird related prosecutions in 2008.      

The reports vary in length between 61 and 75 pages and consistently present a litany of wrongdoing which shows no real trend in abating. If you, like me, are disgusted at the continuing levels of raptor persecution in the UK then these reports are essential reading. Incidentally, the details are available on line from the RSPB.

The simple conclusion coming through, following any reference to the above reports, is that, contrary to the claims by the shooting fraternity, including the manic claims of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, such activities are not reducing, they are widely distributed geographically and clearly represent the bedrock of an attitude of intolerance within the shooting fraternity, whatever a more respectable minority of that community proclaim.

This is the 21st Millenium!! It doesn't include any longer the apogee of diversion for the wealthy that established itself  so firmly in Victorian times. Sadly, though, the attitudes remain, representing a yearning even,  for when independence of action could manifest itself without being questioned and the "balance of nature" was expressed through self-selected approaches aimed at producing the best circumstances for grouse and pheasant shooting!!

Outdated, selfish, arrogant and a situation demanding of subservience from those not involved....the list could go on.  However, this is now 2013, and with ever increasing pressure on wildlife and habitats,  mature and modern attitudes are required which represent the interests of everyone. Self selected approaches to wildlife control are unacceptable and something we should all seek to eliminate.

Larger moths under threat!

A little time ago I received a copy of a report from Butterfly Conservation entitled  " The State of Britain's  Larger Moths 2013".  Its conclusions result from an examination of data collected by the Rothamsted Insect Survey ( RIS ) and the National Moth Recording Scheme ( NMRS ) run by Butterfly Conservation.

Previously , a detailed analysis of 35 years of RIS data  ( 1968-2002 ) had shown significant decreases in Britain's larger moths. Further work on this moth population monitoring data, extending the period of analysis to 2007, showed the situation to be no better. These findings were then linked to the moth distribution data collected under  Butterfly Conservation's scheme.


The main findings make for very sober reading!  During the last 40 years the overall abundance of moths has crashed with 3 species probably having become extinct in the last decade. This situation followed 62 other species having been lost in the 20th Century!!  These are the most stark facts arising from the report but, sadly, there are more. Two-thirds of our common and widespread macro-moths, i.e. the larger ones as opposed to the tiny specimens, have declined in the last 40 years, which is an extremely worrying situation. All such appears to be part of a wider insect biodiversity crisis which includes declines in butterflies, bees and carabid beetles. Ongoing habitat loss and the deteriorating quality of our countryside are felt to be the major factors responsible.

By contrast, the review period has seen an unprecedented appearance of new moth species to Britain. More than 100 species have been recorded in Britain for the first time within the last century and 27 species have colonised Britain since the year 2000. Some of this undoubtedly results from changing climatic factors, but there have been accidental importations too. Many of these newly arriving species have colonised non-native plant species.

Whilst the latter scenario might hold some fascination, the fact remains  that the main aspect of this report signifies a catastrophic loss of biodiversity within the British countryside. As such it represents a clarion call to review the factors thought to be contributing to the declines and to draw together the necessary lines of action to bring improvement to the situation.

The above report can be downloaded from Butterfly Conservation's website at the link below

The State of Britain's Larger Moths 2013.

May I urge everyone to read it, to consider how best they might assist in improving the situation and to provide support to our conservation organizations.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

On the nature of E-petitions!!

I'm conscious all this mention of E-petitions must be downright confusing to some foreign readers, so I thought that, out of courtesy, it might be worth explaining what all the fuss is about!!

I suppose, in a sense, this is  "technological progress", although it's not quite replaced what went before, at least not yet! Remember being approached to sign a petition about changing something or another?  Well this is the computer equivalent, but on a targetted subject about which you, or a group of you, are concerned about and wish the UK Government to take action upon. The UK Government has set up a system whereby you can lay down a petition requesting their action and the popularity of the subject is then gauged by the number of signatures from UK residents which it gains. If over 100,000 signatures are gained/received, the topic is considered by a Back Bench Committee with the possible outcome being that the matter is debated in Parliament.

That's setting things out in their simplest form!!  There are one or two "checks and balances", and reaching the above threshold doesn't necessarily mean the topic will be debated or that legislation will result. I suppose this is modern day democracy in action and it is incumbent  upon the person(s)  promoting the topic to advertise it widely and gain the appropriate level of support. Cynics would argue the Government of the day can still ignore the matter and proceed with a less popular choice, but at least the public has been given its chance to voice its opinion. All very idealistic, modern, novel even!  Clearly the more parallel action that accompanies the petition process,  the more the Members of Parliament will be conscious of the public's level of feeling on the matter.  So promotion is important, if not critical to the whole process. Whatever the outcome, if there is a reasonable expression of concern or opposition to some existing situation, there is a clear message being "transferred" to those in power that change is being demanded.  To ignore such sincere expression is foolhardy as dis-satisfaction can result in an elector's voting preferences being influenced and existing Government's candidates not receiving support on the occasion of the next election.

All this is simply common sense and, it has to be said, not all petitions necessarily stand for something that is universally acceptable. I might proclaim that the Pope ought to wear green shoes, but I suspect it would not result in much interest from a majority of the UK electorate or rate as a subject in which the present UK Government can take action anyway. Probably it would be filtered out early on in the submission process too!!    

So that is what is associated with the E-petition I have recently registered aimed at drawing attention to totally unacceptable levels of bird of prey persecution and the need for those responsible, and the commercial activities they are connected with, to be regulated through a licensing system. If the licensing system is breached by proof of illegal activities taking place, then the "operating licences" are withdrawn.
This is not just something that "birders" should be concerned about. It is a topic that everyone has a right to express an opinion on given it is our wildlife heritage which is being reduced by  factions within the shooting fraternity who are operating to laws of their own choosing.  Birders and conservationists by all means register your feelings, but also wives, sisters, grandma's and granddads, friends and colleagues who find the current circumstances both reprehensible and unacceptable.


Signs of winter's end. 16.3.2013.

A rolling grey sea, with far off mist shrouding views of Ireland, coupled with a north easterly wind, weren't the best circumstances for sea watching, although an advancing calendar inevitably signals a potential for change.  Increased numbers of Gannets offshore, all adults, and several parties of northward bound auks, mostly Razorbills when they could be identified, suggested this to be true. Local Fulmars stoically sat out the cold winds on their exposed corner of the island cliff on the opposite side of the bay and summer clad Black Guillemots whirred back and forth. Present too was a rowdy assemblage of Common Gulls on what will be there usual nesting area on a bluff above the beach, further signs that the season is moving forward.

Outer Loch Indaal provided further evidence of activity, with parties of Guillemot and Razorbill and numbers of Great Northern Diver dotted across the wide expanse of water, including a party of eight with two birds asleep, an indication perhaps of their recent arrival after moving north. Several Red-throated Divers were also present and a trio of Black-throated Divers, who noticeably kept close together and alert, almost acting nervously. A total of around 140 Common Scoter was strung out in the centre of the loch, riding out an increasing choppy surface and with no frenetic activity from the males as usually befits the season!  Further into the loch four Purple Sandpiper fed actively amongst the rocks at Bruichladdich as the tide advanced and , farther on, seven Light-bellied Brent Geese picked similarly at the edge of the moving body of water.

In the more sheltered waters of the Inner Loch the numbers of duck are now much reduced, an apt indicator in itself that birds have commenced on the first stage of their journey to their breeding grounds. A handful of Wigeon, a few Long-tailed Duck and odd Goldeneye provided the vestiges of what had gone before. A few Slavonian Grebe remain, now in resplendent summer plumage, but their usual winter counterparts, Greater Scaup  all appear to have departed. By contrast, numbers of Northern Eider continue to increase and Shelduck are more in evidence. Of interest was a fast moving flock of  70 Common Teal that "fled" the loch completely to the north west, either birds that had decided to move on or birds that were moving through.

Clearly a time of anticipation and change. Further north, in the increasing temperatures of mid afternoon, several Buzzards circled around over their prospective breeding territories and several Robins gave out snatches of song, all further indications that spring is on its way.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Spring........ermm! Well, sort of !

The last three weeks have been almost entirely given over to dealing with campaigning matters and arrangements relating to the E-petition.With future planning now being decided upon, actual birding should now become a reality compared to the snatched, and somewhat brief, opportunities taken up in recent days.

Looking back to last year I noted that daffodils were showing in flower by now. This year they're well advanced , but not in flower locally, no doubt boosted, on the one hand, by the prolonged spell of good weather we had, but now stopped in their tracks by the prolonged cold , easterly winds and virtually no sun. Daylight length gradually extends, but there is a sense of being in a bit of a vacuum, which certainly appears to apply to , .

This is particularly noticeable locally with the grass moors adjacent to the house being almost devoid of birds. The odd Curlew and Lapwing pair had started to have a presence on the usual higher ground , but all that activity now seems to have come to a stop and the birds ceased to be in evidence. By contrast, Herring Gulls patrol areas of open ground in small parties, presumably searching out invertebrates. As you might expect the local Golden Eagles are "in residence" and seen occasionally if looked for, but display has been less than frequent given the bad days. I keep getting visits from a group of Choughs, presumably non-breeders, who, none the less, inspect the nest boxes in the barn quite regularly, displaying some form of "avian good manners" as birds take turns to pop through the access holes! A few days ago a pair of Stonechats were obvious, doubtless having moved up from the coast which is not far away. The local pairs (2) of Starlings are active, in song and collecting nesting material in a half hearted sort of way. Odd Buzzards, Hooded Crows and Ravens, plus occasional Common and GBBG's  overfly the area and Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, Fieldfare, Blackbird, Robin, Dunnock and Wren turn up occasionally, but that's it!!  Well, it's kept me sane and I guess there are one or two species amongst all those that some people would be deliberately seeking out if they were here on holiday. So, I'm thankful, more than!.  But I shall be glad when I'm on the trail again ( I can't quite believe I've written that!! I've just been watching "The Charge at Feather River".  Yup,  it's been that desperate, folks ).

As for Spring, well I guess it'll be here soon enough,  accompanied by the first of our migrants that are now beginning to be reported in the south.

Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers.





Thursday, March 7, 2013

Deer, oh dear!

Based on work undertaken by the University of East Anglia a cull of deer throughout England is being advocated!!  Pretty far reaching one might say, but that's how the media presented the issue.

Apparently the deer populations are at a higher point at present than at any time since the last Ice Age ( impressive data base line it has to be said ! ) and are causing extensive damage to woodlands and,  increasingly, are involved in road accidents.  Seeing the film footage I immediately thought, Thetford Forest, although I'd perhaps seen it before. The Muntjac was a clue though!

The university and Forestry Commission representatives were somewhat less alarmist, but nonetheless conveyed something needs to be done. I'd question whether the conclusions have universal applicability and, therefore,  there must be "local solutions" which can be applied where there are obvious high concentrations of animals. I'm also bound to say the temptation to "open up" by some motorists travelling along the long straight roads through many parts of the Thetford Forest might contribute to that particular local problem. Speed bumps could address the problem, may be they do already,but that of habitat destruction would remain un-addressed. I can identify with the problem of deer on roads though, as I've written about it several times on this Blog.  Certainly the Roe Deer population has grown enormously within my lifetime and I'm still encountering animals in new places as I travel around  on the English mainland.

So, we shall now have to see how the problem is addressed and who is involved. I thought the Forestry Commission already carried out seasonal culling activities so possibly they could offer  supervised commercial shooting opportunities as well.  

Why are gamekeepers being protected?

Yesterday I took two telephone calls relating to the comments which had been submitted in association with my posting "Hen Harriers.......the lunacy must stop!"  I had welcomed the comments from Mr Reece Fowler as I felt they represented a robust defence of the shooting fraternity and those gamekeepers who supported the law. Nonetheless , I remained unconvinced by the claims,  as my response set out.

After my conversations yesterday I had a long, hard think on the issue (yet again ) and whether we were overlooking any crucial elements which might assist in eliminating the ridiculous situation which raptor persecution represents.

There are a number of statements within Mr Fowler's contribution which are of fundamental interest. Far from isolating his comments for forensic criticism I believe his comments contain a subject area which, if pursued, could result in major improvement. I have highlighted these statements below and comment on each.

Condemn the people who actually take part in illegal activities, not the overwhelming majority of gamekeepers who don't.

The gamekeepers who kill raptors are in a minority.

I condemn, utterly, the gamekeepers who resort to the killing, trapping, poisoning and disturbance of raptors. Full stop!!  I simply don't believe such activities are isolated, but are more endemic than is being accepted. Remember too, the "record"  is based on incidents reported on,  not those which undoubtedly go unrecorded in the vast expanses of land which upland shoots extend over, where the likelihood of detection is minimised. Let's not delude ourselves and inject more inaccuracy into the debate.

The gamekeepers who break the law are shunned by the profession.

Quite candidly I'm worried by this statement.  If the people concerned are being shunned, it suggests the shooting fraternity know which shooting estates and individuals are involved in these activities and that nothing is being done about it. Does this suggest that the fraternity are willing to see the activities go unreported when details should be being passed to the police?  At least that is the impression it conveys, mistaken or not. Not to do so is to condone them and their actions in my book. Not to report them is also tantamount to a cover up and to be offering "protection" to those concerned.  Shameful and hypocritical if such is true and not a position the industry can afford to adopt either.

It is in the interests of shooters to maintain a good reputation to maintain public support.

Well I think we can acknowledge  " the reputation"   is pretty rock bottom amongst many at the present time. In summary, shooting activities are seen as being the province of the privileged, who are exercising prejudice and practice in the form of raptor persecution. Many might take issue with this and claim their own practices fall precisely within the requirements of the law.  What is being set aside is that it is the persecution actions of a debatable proportion and these are the ones responsible for the negative attitudes towards the shooting fraternity. Implicit in that statement is the fact that I don't believe a majority of people at the present time are against shooting if it is carried out responsibly. However, that situation could change if persecution activities go on unabated. Surely then the simple task is to put your own house in order if those involved in persecution are responsible and causing this "drawdown" in the public popularity of shooting.  I suspect there would be an overwhelming declaration of support for the shooting fraternity if it embarked on actions to clean up the industry.  Not to do so threatens even further adverse criticism and could be seen as a tacit acceptance of what is going on!  I have to say though that, given grouse shoots act as commercial enterprises, even these "rogue" constituents must be receiving sufficient attendees at their shoots, which questions how robust and successful  the "shunning process" is and how universal the condemnation is too within the shooting fraternity.

If the above situation is correct and  "insider knowledge" is held which could significantly improve the situation, if acted upon, is this not a campaign which the shooting industry could mount behind closed doors?. I suspect even threatening to report matters to the police would certainly bring an automatic reaction from some! For the recalcitrant minority then I doubt they would receive the sympathy of anyone, inside or outside the "industry! Increasing isolation, coupled with being "named and shamed", would eventually begin to  bite. Is the industry prepared to go that far in order to achieve an untarnished reputation?  We shall see.

There must be views out there that deserve to be seen. Let's see them!!  In the meantime, and certainly in the absence of any apparent improvement or progress by the shooting fraternity, I believe there is little alternative but to suggest regulation as a way forward and would ask everyone concerned to sign the E-petition aimed at this objective, the link for which is below. Thank you.

Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Venezuela in mourning.

The news channels today have been filled with reports of the death of President Chavez of Venezuela. Love him or loathe him, in the eyes of many of his nation he was a person to be revered. Simply put, when he took over 50% of that population were suffering from abject poverty and deprivation. He reduced that figure to 25%, introduced education schemes, social hosing schemes and inoculation programmes. Some authorities countered those claims and possibly the real truth might now emerge. Other sectors also claimed a disproportionate influence on their activities and registered their opposition and disappointment in these.

As far as conservation is concerned the President appeared to have far less sympathy and interest or afford it much priority. Visiting that country in 2006 I was impressed with the variety of habitats, the sheer splendour of the birdlife and some of the areas already designated. I suppose one has to concede that, attempting to act across the board on everything, is very difficult when large scale programmes, and the necessary funding they require, are needed to combat poverty. Within the country there are some vast privately owned estates which hold some exceptional wetland sites and their attendant wildlife communities. The Government appeared to be at odds with those owners and sequestration of such assets occurred or was threatened. Indiscriminate hunting and habitat destruction took place in some of those areas taken over and the wildlife value would undoubtedly have suffered.  Some still remain, indeed, I notice today that Naturetrek are still offering their Llanos birdwatching  tour, which includes a visit to an absolute paradise, Hato de Pinero. It would be useful to receive up to date information on the current status of these and an appraisal of what might be needed in the future.

There is no doubt that the country will need to get back on its feet after the devastating news of the loss of their leader. Once the appropriate time has elapsed, one hopes that the new Administration will see the benefit in retaining, at the very least, those areas of the country high in wildlife value. Venezuela is a wonderful country and deserves to prosper. Hopefully it will not overlook the benefits that could accrue from  increased wildlife tourism ( and the foreign currency that results from such)  and in the benefit that organizations like BirdLife International  can offer through advice and support.  I think it entirely appropriate for us all to wish the country well in its future.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hen Harriers.......the lunacy must stop!

The lunacy that has led to the decimation of the English breeding stock of Hen Harriers, and additional birds from elsewhere besides, must stop!  Clearly the position adopted by various shooting estates and their gamekeepers needs to be brought under control and collective efforts made to get the population back on its feet.

Easily said, I guess, and certainly not straightforward.

It's interesting to look at the problem in an historical context, although without going back too far. In fact , let's start a hundred years ago. The following details are my own "take" on the subject, may not necessarily be in strict chronological order, but are certainly very relevant milestones in my opinion.

In August, 1913 1421.5 brace of Red Grouse, (that's 2843 birds !!), were shot in a single day on Broomhead Moor in the Peak District in South Yorkshire. This is held up to be a record , although I'm not sure it's a tribute to anything little more than blood lust. Of one thing I think we can be pretty certain and that  it is unlikely harriers would have prospered on those moors within those halcyon days of carnage!

With the First World War, followed by the Depression and the Second World War such "diversions" would, undoubtedly, have been affected, if not reduced in some areas. This may even have given raptors a reprieve against persecution! In parallel to all this, I think we have to take into account that a majority of the populace within that period would have been concerned with personal matters and certainly not, collectively, associated with campaigning other than to try and achieve improvements to economic and social  conditions. The one exception , perhaps, was in relation to gaining access to the uplands and the mass trespass demonstrations. The clear conclusion arising from this is that, under normal circumstances, such areas were private and off-limits. In other respects the wealthy were able to " get on with it"  within the countryside and operate to a strategy of their own choosing too!! It must be acknowledged that many estates also provided significant rural employment, so the attitudes of the nation's overall workforce would be forged below the banners of necessary subservience or polarised separation and lack of contact. Hardly surprising that the shooting fraternity enjoyed the benefits of isolation.

By 1954 interest in conservation was growing and the Protection of Birds Act appeared . This repealed the 1902 Act but, in overall terms, still provided an emphasis towards egg collecting and general protection needs, as opposed to persecution as we know it.  Later conversations I had personally with a shooting tenant in the Forest of Bowland suggested they first became aware of Hen Harriers being a regular presence towards the end of the 1950's. By the end of the 1970's that area held around 40 breeding pairs. If persecution activities in the 1980's are to be used as a basis, birds and nests of this species were not being persecuted extensively there in the 1960's and early 1970's compared against, say, the clear control of numbers and the distribution of the Common Buzzard elsewhere in the UK. That situation altered dramatically in the Forest of Bowland in the 1980's when the breeding numbers of harriers was reduced to a single pair at one point!! Research and campaigning by the RSPB on persecution and the limiting of the Common Buzzard's range resulted in the use of poisons being reduced and various substances being banned. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a fairly quick extension of range and numbers of that species.  The appearance of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 also brought a significant emphasis on conservation of wildlife, plant species and areas and was a major step forward  given it included details of especial penalties associated with the persecution of Schedule1 bird species, within which many raptor species were included.

This period was undoubtedly a major turning point as far as the attitudes of landowners and the shooting fraternity were concerned and deserves a separate treatment of its own!  Alongside all this featured a number   of raptor introduction schemes ( Red Kites, White-tailed Eagles ), increasing numbers of Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers and more emphasis on investigations work into persecution incidents, along with its attendant publicity. Good, solid conservation in action!  I'm sure the shooting fraternity saw this totally differently....raptors everywhere doing damage to their "interests", whatever the evidence, which undoubtedly saw an increase against previous times of raptor control regardless of this being against the law. One can imagine a growing feeling, even if in a subconscious context, of those days of independence being under threat!!

Now, it would seem that the attitude of many amongst the shooting fraternity is the same, that of being adamant in their lack of tolerance towards raptors, with the Hen Harrier being the flagship species of their hatred. Good God, man, they eat grouse chicks!!   But, in all this, is there a reflection of something deeper?  A yearning for those bygone days of traditional self-serving, of being beyond reproach and of the exercising of that ultimate privilege, self indulgence and independence to do what one would wish on one's own terms!

I just wonder! My feelings are that they feel increasingly "squeezed", resulting in a number of dummies, in the form of ill-framed media statements and interview responses, being spat out from the collective comfort of the Establishment pram. I think I can even understand their reaction, would you know!  But it's an anachronistic wish. An innocent, but arrogant , view that is redolent of what this minority enjoyed in Victorian times.  Such a platform of subjugation and privilege no longer applies in this modern world. This is the 21st Century and circumstances and attitudes have changed!

The evidence of persecution in recent times, say the last thirty years, shows the unwillingness of a majority within the shooting fraternity to face up to and adopt the sensible strictures of  modern times. Taking account of the attitudes of the wider population is a modern day necessity and the latter's wish to see a healthy and vibrant wildlife heritage is something which must be acknowledged. Any persistent and aberrant influences aimed at reducing this must be addressed, particularly when such actions are against the law anyway. In the current circumstances there appears little alternative but to fight for regulation of an industry which insists on having its head in the sand and which has no one to blame for the outcome but itself. Its constituents clearly still insist on residing outside the boundaries of decent and law abiding behaviour.

This is the basis of the logic behind the petition I have laid within the UK Government's formal process. I would urge everyone to both sign it and promote it to others. The necessary link is below.Thank you.

Licensing of grouse moors and gamekeepers

Friday, March 1, 2013

Latest offering from Lynx Edicions.

A quick "heads up" to promote the latest offering from Lynx. The new Special Volume complements the 16-volume series Handbook of the Birds of the World and deals with new species discovered/described since the final volume of the series and provides a global index too.  It's due in May,2013 and promises to be as inspiring and informative as any of the previous volumes. The offer  price being quoted is 115 Euros up until the 30th April, 2013,  thereafter the price will be 145 Euros.

Euphoria, disgust and sadness!

Yesterday was a bit hectic and mostly involved my being behind a computer! As I write this I'm looking wistfully through the window onto a landscape bathed in sunshine in almost calm conditions. This is Islay, THIS could be summer, folks, not starting,  but our share within 2013!! Joking apart, I also keep thinking what might be out there that needs to be discovered!!

But work remains and I have to say that I feel very humbled, although quietly euphoric, at the current support the E-petition is receiving.  A short while ago over 1300 signatures had been registered with two  full days not having yet elapsed. I'll put further details out in a few days time. In the meantime, and if you haven't signed yet , please take a look at

Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers.

On another campaign front entirely, did you watch Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's TV programme last evening on prawn production overseas, particularly in Thailand? However talented Hugh is as a chef  and restaurateur, what he served up last evening was pretty unpalatable and disgusting.. I'm pretty partial to prawns myself, but I could be put off and need to be if it serves to improve the problem associated with fish stocks. WHY?  Sadly it seems all sizes of fish are being hoovered up in certain areas off SE Asia in order to be turned into meal and fed to prawns.These provide a very lucrative market worldwide, including in our own UK supermarkets, who gain supplies from the very firm, CP, who are involved in the meal production process and the prawn rearing process.  This is a ludicrous, a carousel of sheer lunacy! Other examples of factory fishing served simply to show that the excesses of the present will result in the exhaustion of the future.
Take a look at the following.

Save our seas.

So, I think we need to take a close look, as consumers, at what and which products we purchase in order to avoid being part of an inevitable process that sees fish stocks, worldwide, being exhausted. Linked to all this is the current campaign to persuade the UK Government to create a series of Marine Conservation Zones within which fish stocks within our own jurisdiction could prosper. Early indications are that DEFRA would prefer to designate many, many fewer, in fact a measly 31 compared to the 127 which are being petitioned for. So this is where we can help by submitting our support via E-mail or other means. Don't be fooled into thinking that our "domestic" fish stocks are in pristine order. They are not! For example,repeated concerns are being expressed about reduced sand eel stocks and the effects such is having on the breeding productivity of our seabirds. It's always important to remember that the UK is important in global terms for its seabird populations given our extended coastline and endless small islands,  so pretty soon the picture becomes one in which a whole series of integrated issues emerge. Act now.

And finally, the sadness of the day. It was revealed yesterday that Russell Slack had died after being diagnosed with cancer some three or four months ago.

The above will stand as a fitting tribute to a young man of 46 years only who was central to so much in birding. Life can appear to be very unfair at times and every sympathy is extended to his wife and two daughters and to his close friends.