Monday, December 28, 2015

Why is this Government so blinkered and obstinate when it comes to environmental matters?

I'd originally intended to wait until the New Year and then start "blogging with intent", but the current dreadful flooding problems in various parts of the UK and the repeated , predictable response from our Greenest Government Ever have persuaded me otherwise.

You know, I live in a pretty wild part of the UK in a sense. Heavy seas sometimes preventing access to the mainland, loss of electric power for five days on one occasion and two or three periods of extreme winds, i.e in excess of 110 mph,  have all occurred within the last fifteen years I've been here. It's mostly a question of gritting your teeth and waiting things out, but I've also had part of a roof taken off and all that entails in the aftermath in terms of damage, repair, stress and insurance claims. Often these are totally unexpected events but, elsewhere in the UK, given we've allowed development in flood plains over the years, are more than aware where flood risk areas are located,  yet have avoided proper timely provision for accompanying prevention measures in a general context, but have generally relied on reactive "after the event" schemes, the Government's track record, whatever its complexion, has not been great.

When will the Government accept that, very probably as a consequence of Climate Change, we appear to be getting far more frequent severe storms of a greater ferocity than ever before. Event periodicity is now a bit of a moveable feast!!  Whatever the cause of such events, they are actually happening more frequently and bringing suffering and hardship in their wake. So should our Government be paying greater heed to the needs of our environment or not?   Well, yes, of course, but they seem incapable of doing so. Not very long ago the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Owen Patterson , was a Climate Change denier and a self declared opponent of anyone who might be deemed "green".  A rather bizarre choice one might suggest. We've now got his replacement who, according to rumour, really wants to be in the Treasury and who is clearly unsuited and unsympathetic to the needs of the job.  When do we get someone who is best suited to the task and who isn't a lightweight, accepting of repeated cuts to the DEFRA budget and generally presiding over a function which is seen ripe for cuts every time the "environmental Luddite" that is our Chancellor sees fit to reduce departmental allocations.

I actually feel sorry for the Environmental Agency who ends up being the fall guy on all such occasions. Whatever "PR Dave" says about budgets the available funds have reduced dramatically since 2011 and yet the demands have grown. There was an increase in the wake of the floods in SW England and it can also be demonstrated that the current budget is beyond that of the previous Government. But is that the real question to be asked and to answer?  Surely it should be , "Is the budget adequate and does it reflect real circumstances?".. In advance of the Climate Change talks in Paris the current Government received a report recommending that, where flood prevention was concerned,  future action should be based on full catchment management measures and that such adaptive techniques should become widespread.  It was rejected and a "we know best, we'll rely on the old ways" approach was agreed. Whilst the Environment Agency very often comes out badly in circumstances such as those arising at present, it carries a good reputation for knowledge of potential adaptive management, but is beholden to the Government for its budget, Not the best situation to occupy I'd suggest.

This Government clearly has no understanding or empathy with environmental matters and sees the function and policies as being ripe for savings/cuts at every juncture. This will only end when the electorate remembers the abyssmal track record which is now in place, reminds them of the consequences and votes against them. The Government should be taking far more notice of the advice it receives from academics and other advisors.  Assuming real leadership and taking forward necessary action is what people both need and want from Government , not to witness the endless pursuance of policies that grudgingly pay lip service to  problems but never get to the bottom of them despite the available evidence.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

What a difference an hour makes!

Jan Crowther  ( Kilnsea, Spurn ) has kindly pointed me in the direction of two Comments on Mark Avery's Blog that were submitted in response to a Guest Blog by Professor John Lawton dealing with the Spurn Visitor Centre issue.

Both comments refer to the owners of property located not very far from the proposed Centre, namely Southfield Farm and the property immediately adjacent to the Blue Bell,  Both properties were offered to the Trust but not responded to.  I suggest all readers should acquaint themselves with both John Lawton's comments and those submitted by the two Kilnsea residents.

Quite frankly I find much of this extremely unsettling if not bizarre. So many subject areas spring from the page, not least value for money, but also the unresponsive attitude levelled at the above residents. Such  hardly smacks of effort being put into maintaining  harmony and integrating activities and local residents. In my view both properties would have created a combined base on which the objectives of the Trust associated with the proposed Centre could have easily transferred. I'm bewildered and that doesn't happen often!!!  

Spurn's proposed Visitor Centre.........the final stages?

Whilst I was away abroad I thought not infrequently about the proposed Visitor Centre at Spurn and what the final outcome might be.  I suspect that, sometime soon, the formal documentation will be submitted by the YWT to the Planning Authority who will then preside officially over the whole process and approve or reject the proposal.

Having witnessed some strange outcomes to planning matters in the past I mused further on what scenarios might apply following the Planning Officer's decision.  For instance, what ideas might arise should the proposal be rejected?  Are there other alternatives which could be considered?

When last I put out a Blog on the subject in September I attempted to highlight a series of issues and responsibilities that needed to be addressed . Some people thought this supported the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's position too overtly, which given my independent status wasn't the intention.  I contend that whoever was the owner or managing agent these obligations would need to be faced and, therefore, partisan support didn't enter the situation.  I suspect that these obligations and responsibilities will be considered as part of the application, particularly those associated with safety.  Of significant importance though is how will these be addressed if the proposal is rejected. Such circumstances will provide the YWT with an almighty headache at best!!

The decision on the application, presumably at some point in 2016, will no doubt please some people and bring bitter tears of disappointment to others. I still nurture a hope that a solution will emerge that doesn't involve a large built structure, although with the process nearing conclusion this hardly seems likely.  At the outset my feelings were very much centred on the fact that an insufficient number of visitors in the future would result in the proposal being a bit of a "white elephant".  I still worry that projections of future visitor attendance are over optimistic as the resultant income would not provide the YWT with the necessary funds it needs to run the site.  However, my basic feelings of concern  have changed and now rest on a completely different platform of issues , as outlined below.

First of all, let's look at what I believe  ( and I emphasize, these are my opinions ! ) is, currently,  a basic aspect of the YWT's case for a new centre. Following the breach of the peninsula, the income derived from visitors plummeted, a situation which would automatically affect the management capabilities and forecasts. The new Centre, already under discussion, thus provided an opportunity to concentrate visitors and provide facilities which would generate the income necessary for site management. I get the impression that , without the facility, the Trust felt it would be facing an extraordinary challenge. So, essentially that is the point we are at presently with, of course, the construction costs of the Centre being covered by Eon from its Community Fund.

But I'm still troubled !  Doubtless the following will be seen as pessimistic, even negative, but I believe it contains sufficient realism such that it should not be ignored.

The subject of periodicity of major storm events is more of an art than a science in my opinion. Based on historical records storm surges can be calculated, but the precise point at which they occur cannot be predicted. For example, at what point within a fifty year cycle is the next event likely to take place.......within the next five years or during the last three!!  Now I'm sure such data has been considered but, at the end of the day, the decision to proceed is a value judgement that could carry a high risk.   I'm beginning to be convinced that  to contemplate  built structures and accompanying visitor facilities associated with an area where the risk level is high is perhaps best avoided!  More temporary and modest provisions might be a better alternative!   With our weather systems becoming ever more dynamic and unpredictable I question whether it's morally sensible to consider expensive built structures in areas with a proven track record of inundation.  Shouldn't the investment be more securely placed?  That the proposed Centre is designed to be above predicted flood levels and can be retrieved is not any assurance the facility will continue to attract visitors or produce sufficient income following an incident that might, for instance, drastically affect access.
I think we have to face the unpalatable inevitability that circumstances  are going to get worse in terms of the breach and access to the peninsula and could deteriorate significantly in the short term placing plans for income generation under serious duress.

So what's the solution?  In my eyes it could be a very simple one.

It seems to me that the YWT position is being driven by the understandable need for it to generate income that will then underpin the site management costs. If that over-riding imperative was removed then the need for a Centre would be erased. So why can't Eon simply set up a management fund , legally approved etc,  aimed at supporting the YWT's need, as site owner, to manage the site according to the formal requirements of it being an NNR and the plethora of issues that now surround its future continuity such as site safety issues.  The site can't simply be abandoned and "special case" and  "exceptional circumstances" spring to mind as well as its status in national terms.  Such may have been considered and rejected , but the idea might need to be resurrected if the proposal is turned down!!

The above scenario would mean the Visitor Centre element is  removed altogether, which would mollify the inflamed opposition of local residents, but it would also remove the "commercial aspects" the Trust was forced to adopt in order to pay for site management.  Doubtless a new car park could be considered and, indeed, a small reception centre located in what is the current "turning circle" near the entrance gate. Beyond that no further capital works would be required as the catering function could be located at the Blue Bell where the previously envisaged displays about Spurn and climate change etc could be placed. The basic premise upon which all this rests is that it can be envisaged some event will occur which would call the efficacy of the proposed Centre and its envisaged facilities into question.  It appears that the profile of the breach channel has already begun to alter with all that implies for safe access.

So, final hour , final ideas, but with the over-riding need for the requirements of Spurn itself to be best considered following the clamour of the opposing views of each side being set aside.  It would be a tragedy, in what might best be described as the final death throe years of the peninsula as we've known it , if no common solutions could be agreed upon that saw Spurn's natural assets managed in the most optimum way possible.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Just like old times! 20th November,2015

Friday saw me back on Islay after being away in Ethiopia for quite a while. Travelling from the south of the country up to Addis, the vast majority on unmade roads,  followed by two more nights of travel, resulted in a strange state of detachment where sleep didn't seem relevant any longer. More impactive though was the drastic drop in temperatures which demanded a few extra layers of clothing being brought into play!!

Arriving back I'd no time to look at E-mails or correspondence as long time friend and past work colleague David Spivack and his wife Amanda were on holiday on Islay and we'd pledged to meet. In many senses I only just made it at the very end of their week's vacation. They'd had a pretty miserable week with storms throughout , but it hadn't dampened their enthusiasm. Our immediate conversation surrounded David's recent appointment as UK Director for Falklands Conservation and his recent visit to the islands.  I'll be putting out a Blog at some point highlighting their work and no doubt including an utterly enviable photographic shot of  penguins or albatrosses!!!

We elected to go out birding in the afternoon and set off on a quest to pin down a few species that had eluded them due to the weather. We failed, as shortly after setting off I noticed the external temperature had dropped to 2C and then we were enveloped in snow. Could you believe it!!!  We eventually made our way to Gruinart and the relative haven of the hides on the reserve. Whooper Swans on the move and absolutely stunning views of a passing Hen Harrier made up for things, but all too soon darkness began to fall. Back for more coffee, conversation, gossip, updates and the like.  Reminiscing about RSPB days, talking of Wildlife Trust initiatives ( Amanda works for one of the Trusts ),  past visits to Islay and so it went on . All good things come to an end but it's always good to have something to carry over to the next time of meeting. A whirlwind day, but rewarding.      

Update !!

After a significant lapse in Blog entries, covering quite a period,  I thought it sensible to bring matters up to date by outlining what has been happening and, more importantly, what is also going to happen over the ensuing months.

In recent times I've been out in Ethiopia........ a tremendous country , a tremendous trip and something upon which I'll provide  a " block series" of Blogs in the near future. Returning back to low temperatures ( 3C ) after being in up to 35C was a bit of a climatic culture shock , but thank heavens for cuppa soups!  In parallel, the open wars between Montezuma and Immodium, which bedevilled my final days away,  now seem to have reached some sort of peace ! Normality can now resume.

I have resigned my positions as both BTO Regional Representative, which also included WeBS, and as Moth Recorder for Butterfly Conservation. Both these positions have been taken on by David Wood , Site Manager, RSPB Oa Reserve , Islay  ( ).  This was discussed whilst we were both on holiday following the BirdFair and met quite coincidentally at the Three Swallows pub in Cley!  The timing of 1st November was chosen to link with the new BTO NEWS survey so that David could be involved from the onset.  David has already embraced the change with enthusiasm and I suspect BTO activities on Islay will move forward accordingly.  In recent times two "new" birders have moved to live on Islay  which will help things enormously. Best of luck to all.

And what will I be doing with my time?  Well, I intend moving from Islay in the Spring after 16 years in residence.  New opportunities, easier access to family and more convenient links to transport facilities are all part of the mix besides more immediate birding and foreign travel.. Something to look forward to. What was it Mussolini said (?), "Better to live a year like a lion than a lifetime as a lamb" or something to that effect.

On a rather sadder note, I've learned of the recent untimely death of Islay's optician, Dunstan. He was a consummate professional, a first rate communicator and a real friend to all clients. I remember his support in advance of my having an operation on one eye which, in the end, I looked forward to rather than dreaded. A sad loss indeed and sincere condolences to his family, he'll be sorely missed on Islay.

So there we are, a sitrep as at the end of November and an opportunity now to get the site in order and a series of entries flowing forth!!!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Rumours circulate about DEFRA's future.

Rumours have begun to circulate about the possibility of DEFRA being disbanded as part of the Government's autumn review and George Osborne's desperate attempts to effect further economies to bring down the UK's borrowing and deficit.

At the Liberal Democrats conference Baroness Parminter urged LibDems to oppose such a possibility wherein agricultural matters could be transferred to BIS. What happens then to other functions has, as yet , received no response despite enquiries ?  Given that Liz Truss ( Secretary of State, DEFRA ) has increasingly placed an emphasis on farming issues within her period of tenure I suppose this would come as no surprise to some. Farming sources have suggested they might receive greater benefit from being within BIS, a sure fire indication of the self appointed special case" status they appear to confer on themselves nowadays underscored further by Liz Truss who seems to view her very existence as a sales executive for farm produce or proponent of farmers markets!!

It does make you question whether the dire performance of DEFRA on so many fronts is a deliberate ploy or simply a consequence of them having suffered such dreadful cuts to their funding already. A greater worry is what might happen to Natural England as the seeming only representative body to the natural environment we have. Again, in recent times it's hardly covered itself in glory on some occasions, but one wonders if this is a product of having to act within applied constraints given the Government's lack of enthusiasm and support unless it "turns in a dollar" !

Record broken of most birds seen in a single year!

News has emerged that the record set up by Ruth Miller and Alan Davies from Wales in 2008 for the most birds seen worldwide in a calendar year has been broken.  Ruth and Alan saw 4341species and their story is immortalised in the book " The Biggest Twitch", which is packed full of details that allows you to live alongside their efforts that year. I've read it twice already and will doubtless read it again at some point !

Noah Strycker from America has announced that he has already broken the above record with fifteen weeks still in hand to the year end. His target is 5000 birds seen in a single year, that figure equating to just under half of the world's known species dependent on which taxonomic tome you consult!!  Given he's still to visit SE Asia and Australia there's clearly a good chance he'll link up with the 659 species he needs if not more.

Some feat, but I still think we should congratulate our own trailblazers who not only set up the initial record, but then wrote about it and gave us a tremendous bit of escapism in the process.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Grey lag Geese galore! Tuesday, 22nd September, 2015

Following our earlier census a fortnight ago not really working out too successfully given the vast majority of barley fields had not been cut, but a lot of silage had,  leading to birds being mobile and distributed widely, I proposed we moved our efforts on a little.  Bingo !  The main fields in the most favoured areas had been cut at the very end of last week and concentrations of Grey lag Geese emerged immediately.

As each year goes by the habits of the Grey lag Geese accumulating at this time of year appear to change.  Some time ago a regular annual concentration could be found at the head of Loch Indaal,  feeding elsewhere but loafing out on the merse itself for long periods. Similarly birds concentrated at Loch Gruinart moved off at intervals to feed nearby, then rest and bathe on Loch Gorm, only to return to roost at Gruinart. This year birds "flooded in " to Gruinart immediately after the silage was cut and then promptly moved off and took up residence around Loch Gorm giving a nearby uncut barley field a battering.  A large concentration also hung around in a couple of the bays at the head of Loch Indaal, but regularly spilled over into a nearby barley field with similar negative results. Loch Gorm and Loch Indaal now seem to be the favoured roosts of choice, but I've no doubt this will change.

Last year, because the birds had been affected by shooting under licence carried out before the 31st August, the efficacy of monitoring and counting was questionable in my opinion when we counted birds immediately afterwards. Shooting had stopped , by agreement, but the birds were dispersed, difficult and immensely mobile.  This year, with little shooting being in evidence, the birds were more relaxed, much easier to locate and to count although , at times, birds could be seen moving off northwards to areas that I never identified. Work still to be done!!

Whilst I've yet to receive all the results, it does seem likely that the total recorded this year has increased set against the 2014 total of 2200.. Not an immense increase, but noticeable. Such has been endorsed to some extent by counts of juveniles carried out by Malcolm Ogilvie and the confirmation that the birds appear to have had a good breeding season in 2015.  I'll write more on all this later when more details are available and certain aspects have been checked out.  At this point I reflect on the fact that, in 1999 when I moved to Islay, very few breeding pairs were in evidence, no autumn accumulation was in evidence either,  but then rapidly emerged as an annual event and the wintering population was often only a little in excess of one hundred!!!  How things can change.

As I drove past Gruinart in gathering darkness I was reminded of what we will witness as a major change very shortly!!  In fact very shortly indeed!!  Three Barnacle Geese stood in the centre of the Flats looking somewhat forlorn, having arrived within the last couple of days. As I write this many thousands of their cohorts will be poised to wing their way southwards and be with us in a couple of weeks time when the situation will transform from one of a few birds in isolation to utter confusion and cacophany with the possibility of 35,000 or so arriving for the winter.  How things can change!

Monday, September 21, 2015 and responsibilities. A Guest Blog by Dr. Rob Stoneman , Chief Executive, YWT.

Last week , on the 16th September in fact , I put out a Blog entitled " and responsibilities".  As was requested by Jan Crowther, who submitted some Comments on the details, I did "open up a dialogue" with the YWT and invited them, in turn,  to submit their own Comments or submit a Guest Blog for publication.

I'm pleased to make available the Blog below, which has resulted from that request and which I hope will be read carefully alongside the details I published. May I thank Rob Stoneman for his contribution, Jan Crowther for her initial comments and anyone who, as a result of these entries, adds their own comments to the debate.


From the Chief Executive of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, can I thank John for his interesting blog. We do understand some of the opposition to a new visitor centre at Spurn.  We share a gut instinct that Spurn should be a wild place, subject to the forces of nature and better for it.  Yet Spurn, like most other parts of Britain, has a landscape that has been framed and created by an interplay of those natural forces and by humans.  In 1959, when YWT bought the site from the MOD, Spurn was a military complex.  Over the years, YWT has attempted to ‘re-wild’ the site (to use modern parlance) by removing buildings to leave only those that are required by our tenants – currently the Bird Observatory, Associated British Ports and RNLI.  We resisted taking the lighthouse from Trinity House in 1985 knowing that eventually we would have to restore it given its listed building status, even going to court over it, but were forced to take on the lighthouse when it ceased operation. 
The spit itself was locked into position by the wartime defences since at the least the First World War, and probably even earlier, so was always likely to dramatically readjust; the storm surge breach was probably inevitable. 
So, from 1959, it was YWT that took on the role of as the human shaper of Spurn and our tenure has been much less dramatic and more gentle, generally working with the grain rather than against the grain of nature.  Nevertheless, Spurn is a popular tourist destination receiving over 70,000 years at its visitor peak in the 1980s with people attracted by that wild landscape, by its birds and other wildlife, for fishing, for walking, for military history or simply as a day out to the beach.  Even today, with the spit no longer accessible by car, Spurn receives over 20,000 visitors, which if unmanaged will have an unintentional consequence on what is a fragile and delicate site – whether that be by trampling dune habitat, bird disturbance, fires, litter and so on. 
For decades our approach to visitor management has been rather blunt – we put a man at the entrance to the site who essentially policed access and in so doing more or less policed the use of the site.  A blunt instrument for sure but it has more or less worked.  However, for most of those decades, YWT was a very small institution that never had the money to pay the salary let alone invest in effective visitor infrastructure.  Instead, we charged an entrance fee.  The income never quite covered the costs of running Spurn but it was enough to keep the site open.  Was this a popular approach?  Well, of course not.  Charging people to access a piece of open countryside by a man who often had to say ‘No’ (to dogs, to overnight camping, to off-roaders, to bait diggers etc.) is not a popular strategy but what else could YWT do?
Actually, YWT should have invested in better visitor infrastructure and recognised that with a report by Ian Carstairs as far back as 1996.  It was only in 2010, that YWT started to properly consider what it might need at Spurn and how it should run the site into the future with the first ‘business plans’ (wish-lists might be a better word) that were put together by myself.  We applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund to put some of that plan in place but were rejected twice.  But eventually, in 2012, we finally received news that our lottery application was making headway.  We could finally start with plans to restore the lighthouse, put in a viewing platform at the Point and appoint a Heritage Officer to run an events and education programme. 
But this only addressed part of the issue – we still didn’t have the right visitor facilities in place - and then the storm surge struck.
Of course, losing vehicle access was always a risk in such a vulnerable location and we had a contingency plan in place (essentially switching to walk-on and bike-on access) but operating the site with 4WD vehicles across the breach.  Natural England provided funding for those 4WD vehicles not only allowing us, as managers, vehicle and therefore effective management access to the site, but also providing a further visitor access option – our Spurn Safaris that use the Unimog.  This was hugely appreciated but other problems have arisen.  In particular, visitors now concentrate at the Warren area.  We have some car-parking at the Blue Bell but most people drive as far as they can, parking at the Warren Cottage or down along the road back to Kilnsea.  At busy times, its chaotic with cars parked all over and all the visitors now congregating around the Warren Cottage area – it is a mess and no way to manage a National Nature Reserve.

                                Parking congestion at Spurn.   Jonathon Leadley, YWT.

The breach itself  gives us H&S concerns.  Despite, clear signage that is updated on a weekly basis, we still get people stranded or, and much worse, attempt to cross the breach even with water streaming across it at high tide.  Add in our usual mix of H&S concerns – browntail moths, dangerous structures and the dangers of walking on what is now a pretty isolated site in inclement weather……… Chief H&S officer at YWT, it keeps me awake at night.
Moreover, we say little to people about the site – where to go, what to do, what to see, how it formed, what its history, what are those big concrete blocks for, why is there a railway heading off into the sea……there is such a great story at Spurn, it is incumbent upon us – YWT – to tell people about this brilliant site.  More than that, nature reserves should be the cathedrals of nature conservation – the places to inspire, educate and involve people in our efforts for a better more wildlife-rich Yorkshire and a better planet that sustains us long into the future.  Spurn is incredible and we want lots of people to come to Spurn to join our campaign for wildlife.  Spurn should be for the many and not the privileged few.
For this, we need the right visitor infrastructure – a place to get a hot drink and food; a place to go the toilet; a place to learn about this fabulous site – its stories, its history, its wildlife; a place for signposting, telling you where you can go and where you can go safely and without damaging the special nature of the site – we needed a visitor centre and a car-park to replace the current mess. We had long known that, even before the storm surge, so had long been in discussions with EON about possible funding after they received planning permission for a new wind farm off Spurn.  They didn’t have to give us any money; they already had planning permission but recognised that they too had a story to tell – a story of climate change, of its effects on the planet, not least on the coast, of renewable energy and a brighter more sustainable future.  And so they offered YWT £900,000 to build a new visitor centre at Spurn.
We were delighted.  The investment that Spurn so badly needs finally fell into place.  By working with partners, Kilnsea Wetlands becomes the first port of call – with a hide and car-park providing just the right birding facilities.  From there, we pass the Blue Bell – our plans include trainee accommodation.  At the least sensitive location on Spurn in terms of its wildlife, we will have the visitor centre and car-park; the starting point for an informed, safe and enjoyable visit to Spurn. Crucially, for us, the starting point for a managed visit to Spurn, following self-guided or guided trails, by Unimog, by bike and on foot, that ensure visitors do not damage the special interest of Spurn.  Moving down the Point, the Warren area will be re-naturalised leaving just the cottage. From there to the lighthouse, it’s a wild journey over the breach and along the spit.  At the lighthouse, the story of Spurn can be delved into deeper and the fabulous view of Spurn stretches out from the top.  At the Point, vacated ABP buildings will have toilets and a tea-point to get out of the weather with more information for visitors.  A brilliant day out.

It’s a big prize and one that we are hugely excited by.  The alternative is a managed decline and possibly even site closure.  That’s not a good future for Spurn and one we are determined not to take. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

E-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

 HAVE YOU SIGNED THE PETITION YET?  If not, then please follow this link

Ban driven grouse shooting.

There is a compelling reason for my issuing this Blog !!  I thought, quite genuinely, that I had signed the above petition, but I became unsure that I had done so. I went ahead and signed ( again? )  but received no dire warnings, flashing lights  etc so I'm assuming that the Government's computer has done a swift check on me and established that I wasn't attempting to cheat by attempting to sign twice !!

Clearly I hadn't signed and, therefore, I apologise publicly to Mark Avery, past colleague and friend, the person who has laid the petition. In many ways I'm an unlikely abstainer from the process given my track record, but that's not an apt excuse.  I hadn't signed, but why!  The thought occurred to me that, with the current petition following on so quickly after the previous one with the same theme, I'd managed a grand old mix up ( the solution may be within that description ! ).  The previous petition was  closed prematurely due to the General Election popping up and  it further occurred to me that I might not be the only one to have overlooked the matter.

HAVE YOU SIGNED THE PETITION YET?    If not then please follow this link.

Ban driven grouse shooting.

So, you all know what comes next ! If you're unsure, can't remember precisely, or have actually forgotten and believe otherwise , take action, NOW !  I'm sure you'll be told politely if you have signed and things won't result in a visit from the Mind Police  ( well, I do live next to Jura ........George Orwell, "1984 " ).

This petition strikes at far more than wealthy people playing at a game of choice in the uplands, a "Game of Clones" one might suggest.   The Government, Establishment and many others are riding rough shod over a plethora of relevant issues applicable to the uplands. Theirs is not to selectively opt out of their responsibilities linked to the protection of raptors, or the "control" of various mammal species, or of air pollution issues contributing to climate change or, indeed, on negative effects on water drainage. Shrugging off reality is not an option!  Most of us have to abide by the laws of the land and the selective rejection of this principle underlies the wider call for action contained within the petition.


Ban driven grouse shooting.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The reality that is this Tory Government.

Readers will be aware of the E-petition to ban driven grouse shooting which is currently active ( 19164 signatures this evening! ). This has been laid by past colleague and friend , Mark Avery, and has several months yet to run, although the Government recently revised the rules under which these operate and the period they are available is now only six months compared to the twelve months within which signatures could be garnered previously!

The petition passed the required 10,000 signature mark quite soon, against which it would receive formal comment and the much anticipated response from the Government has appeared this week.  What an unmitigated disaster!  It's an elongated version of the drivel I received in response to the E-petition relating to the proposed licensing of grouse moors, but it contains a far more insidious expression of the Government's position relating to the shooting industry. It's clear that Uncle Hubert is alive and well and promises of Party support are being repaid by a growing significance being attached to the grouse shooting community. Clearly there is little true sentiment or empathy with our natural heritage from either Government or practitioners as, along with most other enterprises, it is now being judged on its contribution to the economy and little else.  I'd gently remind the Minister and Department concerned that considerable subsidies are paid from the public purse towards the "management" of such sites ( upland grouse moors ), many of which are designated based on the presence of key species afforded the highest protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 ( as amended ).  But can such contributions be considered to be Value for Money? What a joke, indeed I'd even expect the Chancellor to agree with the following, except he appears to view all things environmental  as an open opportunity to generate economic benefit and extends no interest in our natural heritage whatsoever.

One of the key species often associated with the highest level of designation ( SPA's ) is the Hen Harrier  and sites qualify based on the presence and numbers of this and other birds of prey such as Peregrine and Merlin.. It is  upon the presumption that a site's management will continue to support its constituent "residents" that subsidies can be paid for habitat management.  Except the current level of deliberate illegal persecution is such that few birds are present in suitable upland areas used for shooting and essentially we end up supporting shooting activities and the economic gain so proudly exhorted within the above response. Value for money? I don't think so, in fact one would be hard pressed to identify much benefit that arises towards our natural heritage at all.

So , it's clear where Tory sentiments lie. As long as the shooting industry can demonstrate its economic contribution to be buoyant and positive then the consequences of its operation in the form of illegal persecution will be conveniently ignored and certainly no concerted actions taken to eliminate the problem. OK , references will be made to Working Groups and such like , but let's face it, none of them ever actually deliver solutions. Reports maybe , but not solutions that can be recognized as improvements on the ground. There'll be a measure of indignation that efforts are being made, and not appreciated, but with little firm intent being the basis of the effort in the first place what can be expected!!!  The whole issue revolves around intent of which, I believe, there is none and absolutely no intention either to alter the situation. The shooting industry, in the form of the Establishment where the majority of landholdings reside, has determined that it shall operate to its own desires, that raptors are an ever present nuisance and should be eliminated where possible and that criticism should simply be shrugged off.  Let's not fool ourselves, the rapid reduction of our Hen Harrier wintering population two or three years ago was a collective effort arising out of an agreed strategy constructed within some distant drawing room and communicated widely at a personal level. No reports with recommendations here!! The reported use of rifles fitted with infra red devices allowing roosting birds to be shot at night are now in vogue and are an apt illustration of the level of intent.

Additionally, the tribalism which has emerged in recent times and the public vilification of the RSPB is simply a product of this new found confidence by those who feel they should be allowed to pursue self interest in our countryside or develop its resources without regulation or scrutiny. Government policies echo such clamour, be it by allowing fracking associated with designated sites, badger culling to be extended despite evidence suggesting other more effective means or the use of neocotinids despite their use being banned in Europe.   Environment and natural heritage are not popular, mainstream parts of this Government's operation and only the most necessary aspects will be grudgingly delivered by our incumbent Secretary of State, doubtless with  accompanying portions of "home grown" cheese and chutney bought in the local farmers' market which, nowadays, appears to be the abiding preoccupation of the whole department.    Incidentally, where might we ask is Natural England nowadays?  Mention of this Government organization , which is a part of DEFRA and the Government's advisor on our natural heritage, reduces as each month goes by and one seriously wonders what its intended future might be.

So, what might we expect in the future from our Greenest Government Ever?  Precious little I suspect and the growing imperative is to ensure that no additional period of office arises which will provide a repeat canvas of opportunity for the repressive policies  becoming so evident in so many different spheres by this current Government.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 and obligation !

Since last writing a blog about the Visitor Centre proposal at Spurn I've taken the opportunity to look at a lot of background material ( not necessarily to do with Spurn ), to cull opinion and to check on a few legal aspects too. Perhaps this is something I should have done earlier, although I confess it's not made the situation any easier. It could be said that, since the breach, the whole situation revolving around Spurn and visitors, is a mess! Why? Because, if one takes an honest appraisal of all that is involved,  a whole raft of necessary obligations now have to be considered in my opinion, set against very limited opportunities to resolve them. So, for the moment, forget about visitor numbers, Visitor Centre design, opening hours and many of the points which have absorbed discussion already and contemplate the following.

In two or three months the actual planning application will be submitted for the proposed new Visitor Centre at Spurn and the process will   "go formal". The details will be judged against a whole series of regulations and requirements. The process, therefore, doesn't rest on emotional reactions to design, location or similar aspects based on knee jerk opinions bereft of any necessary factual details to justify the opposition.  Doubtless many questions and concerns, which had been raised previously, have now been answered and resolved and are now no longer valid. Others will still remain and will form the basis of the opposition within submissions.  In this respect, and taking account of the points made below, may I advise that it's always a good idea to try and provide an alternative suggestion to the aspect being opposed. It's easy to dismiss or condemn something, much harder to suggest a viable alternative !  It's a course of action I've advocated or insisted upon over the years and it still holds firm!!   However, it doesn't make the situation less complicated and sometimes demands a willingness to set best preferences aside and confront the realities of the situation.

It seems to me that the opposition to the proposal can be split into individual sections as follows :

  •  opposition by residents to the (very) presence of a Visitor Centre
  • entrenched opposition to the YWT itself  based on mistrust and failed local relationships with staff
  • opposition to actual precise elements of the proposal
  • opposition to the way Eon has supported the proposal and organized consultation.

The second and fourth of these can be set aside for the purposes of the Blog as the first is unlikely to change and the other should be dealt with separately anyway.

Since the breach of the peninsula a whole set of "new" circumstances has arisen.  As the owner,  the YWT has not only to recognize them but to robustly embrace them. The penninsula is a National  Nature Reserve with anticipated management regimes in place aimed at retaining , if not improving, the natural history interest.  The penninsula is also a very fragile environment with habitat management , and also visitor management, being in place commensurate with its needs. Obligations that are not simply expectations but requirements. The inevitable "honey pot" situation which has now developed immediately north of the breach is a recent problem given cars can no longer progress any further southwards. Simply parking up at random is not an option, and clearly there needs to be a managed solution to avoid the inevitable destruction of habitat over time.  Similarly "foot traffic" needs management too to avoid indiscriminate pressure developing in various areas. I suspect all these aspects have been "drivers" ( forgive the pun) which have persuaded the YWT that a Centre needs to be in close proximity to the problem and caused them to adopt the Triangle Field as the preferred site.  Coupled with all this is the question of safety associated with the breach. This is not a situation I would want to manage as the hazard potential is as necessary to oversee whether six or sixty people have gone southwards. Having helped to fight a scrub fire south of Chalk Bank sometime in the 60's I shudder to think what the proposed management regime might be currently in response to a fire, particularly given the access difficulties !!

So this whole question of obligation, responsibility and management begins to assume a very high level of significance and doubtless will have dominated YWT's thinking as well as being examined shortly, one would imagine, at the planning stage. With the very precise levels of responsibility called for nowadays, and concomitant culpability if things go wrong or are not provided for, these are aspects which cannot be ignored and doubtless will be scrutinized. All of these aspects require to be thought through as they can't simply be ignored or dismissed.

I considered at some length the economic aspects of the Centre's operation which had troubled me and still do. Whilst the construction of a Centre may have promised funding, the running costs will demand an act of faith and, I suspect, will also demand cross funding from other YWT sources to subsidise the operation. In this respect, whilst the YWT might be hoping for a best result situation to emerge, I suspect the "Spurn operation" will need financial support for some considerable time.  So does that suggest that Spurn could simply be left to its own devices ? Well, not really given public access can be achieved via the beach, and the necessary management presence such demands needs to be in place. Plus many of the above responsibilities still apply whether the access had been encouraged or not.

Much has been said (including by me ) about the use of the Blue Bell as an alternative to the Visitor Centre given it's already in YWT ownership. Setting aside the predictions about coastal erosion affecting this area I suspect the question will be asked whether this location could achieve the same control over visitor management compared to that being proposed.  All these elements will be assessed and I don't for one minute envy the Planning Officer who will preside over the case.  Stripping apart all, not some, more personal preferences which can be associated with this proposal, the overall situation can only be judged to be a bloody mess !  Given all the complicated elements at play, facing the reality of what has to be complied with adds layers of difficulty beyond the simple choice of being in favour, or otherwise, of the location being proposed for the Visitor Centre. I almost wish the situation could go away, but the realities have to be faced following the penninsula being breached and I suspect the above comments only address a few of the circumstances involved.

Whatever our respective personal preferences for what should be the outcome of the proposal, there are clearly a lot of aspects that ,which for the benefit of Spurn as a nature reserve,  need to be considered. Not easy, but land management never is !!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Birding Frontiers Challenge Series........ Winter.

This is the second in what is going to prove to be an absolutely ground breaking series. I was impressed by the first in the Series ( Autumn ) but am even more impressed by this's superb! I had the pleasure, and privilege , of listening to Martin Garner launch the latest edition at the BirdFair. Whilst he is the author and editor he also generously pays tribute to the many "team members" associated with individual species. At another level the illustrations by Ray Scally  also transport us into what I personally feel to be another medium. So, yes, I'm a bit of a fan!

Living where I do ( the Isle of Islay, Scottish Hebrides ) I'm enthused already by the section on Redpolls and shall be certainly looking out for particular "types" this autumn.  But I'll also be exploring a bit of a personal hobby horse I've suspected for a long time, but not pursued very actively. I believe we can receive migration "streams" of both  Scandinavian and Icelandic Redwings on Islay within the same period  in autumn. The first are moving directly south-east  and appear where I live on the western coast of Islay, the others are migrants that I believe move south west down the Great Glen and can be encountered in the south east of Islay before they tend to move on into the Argyll mainland and beyond.  The approaches advocated by Martin Garner have enthused me already.....what about you?

As I've already said, the illustrations are tremendous and I can't stop returning to examine some which I deem to be without precedence.  Just look at the sections on Snow Buntings, Redpolls, Buff-bellied Pipit and Water Pipits ( in fact , all of them ! ) and be prepared to be enthused.  The technical information is similarly without precedence and there are persons better equipped than I who can comment on the information provided. My only "editorial comment" arises within the Siberian Pipit section.... is there a slight confusion between the quoted dates of November, 2013 and that for 2014?

For me the main underlying message throughout the whole book , but set out by Martin Garner in his presentation at the BirdFair, and also in the "How to use this book " section, is a series of messages that both enthuse and call for action. We are now in a different era, have improved equipment, sources, guidance and need to be prepared to accept new challenges and move the situation on still further compared to that , say, ten years ago.  Martin Garner sets out a list of comments ( a "recipe" ) we can all adopt to make our birding and our own expertise much better and more satisfying.  When presented by him personally at the BirdFair this came across as a very motivating array of advice that I believe can benefit all of us.  Read the list, try the approach, take on board the points as I'm sure much can arise from such a new, fresh approach to our birding.

And if you can't remember the specific advice, simply embrace a more curious, inquiring approach and take on board  "Martin's ( M and M )  Message" which the following image will help you remember ( I hope Martin doesn't take offence!! ).

                                                             MARTIN'S MESSAGE.

                                                   LET'S GET OUT AND FIND THEM

A phenomenal insight into bird migration.

On the 21st June this year I wrote a piece on the Blog entitled, "Bird migrants and large cities". It followed a visit to New York, a "baptism in birds" using Central Park and an awe inspiring visit to the upper gallery of the Rockefeller Building at dusk watching darkness descend, but dominated still by the lights of the city. As you might imagine migrating birds are attracted to such conditions and moves are now afoot to minimize any adverse effects or confusion the plethora of lights emanating from New York's famous skyline causes.

We also visited the Twin Towers Memorial site. In all the usual ways I found this upsetting. Simply looking up at the surrounding majestic buildings and considering such magnificence and engineering excellence could be destroyed by prejudice and hatred is not a very comforting emotion. Coupled with this is the realization that so many who lost their lives were members of fire crews and police precincts who were attempting to save people, all of whose names are inscribed on the monument.


Couple all this with some details my son has directed me to and the theme of migration, remembrance, light and big cities intertwines even further.  Many of you will know of the Tribute in Light Memorial event held in New York each 11th September. See the link here for some awesome photographs  of the occasion and background details Tribute in Light Memorial. The ultra impressive twin blue beams are shone skywards from dusk until dawn on the night of September 11th each year and have done so following the first remembrance event on the 11th March,2002, six months after the appalling tragedy.

Now enter the supporting cast, at least this year!!  You first of all need to know that The Cornell Lab of Ornithology  run a web site, BirdCast, that provides details of what is happening in terms of the volume of bird migration over given periods of time.

Impressive eh?   Now take a look at the website itself and access some of the information, which I suspect you'll find fascinating. Just click on this link,  Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Incidentally the organizers of the Tribute event turn off the lights if it appears they will be causing a problem with migrating birds, which I find quite humbling in a way. But to really appreciate the significance of what migration in action can comprise and the effects the bright lights of our cities have on birds on the move, take a look at this  as it's absolutely mind boggling!  And don't forget to read the accompanying factual material too ....  Click on this link
Migration in action

" The Birds of Spurn" by Andy Roadhouse.

The pre-publication offer for this fantastic new book is now operational and you can order your copy in  a variety of ways as the details on the poster below indicates. This is an exciting publication, which brings Spurn's remarkable story and achievements bang up to date. Moreover, the story doesn't end there! It's intended that "Updates" will be issued annually which will keep the information up to date and fresh!

The offer is open until the 30th November and ensures you'll receive a copy, saves you £3.00 but can save you £8.00 if you elect to join the Friends of Spurn, which in turn brings a raft of additional benefits. So, give the following number a ring ( 01964 650479 ) or take a look at the observatory web site
or simply send your order on to Spurn Bird Observatory, Kew Villa, Kilnsea, HU12 0UB.

But , along the way, don't forget to check out the benefits of being a Friends of Spurn supporter.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Corbyn's countryside?

Recent days has seen an array of meetings, debates, editorials and media coverage relating to the Labour Party leadership contest.  In many senses I guess there'll be a collective sigh of relief that it's all over, or is it? The somewhat surprising extent of Jeremy Corbyn's victory will ensure that the whole issue is kept alive and that the performance of him, and his yet to be appointed key players at Westminster, is followed closely.

But another dimension occurs and interests me.  On several occasions Jeremy Corbyn has expressed concerns on a variety of environmental issues both at national and worldwide levels.I'm encouraged by this as it's such a welcome departure contrasted against other leaders.  Why?   Because recent Party Leaders have shown little or no interest or commitment to the brief and, increasingly, our own natural heritage has being downgraded. It seems it's always the first sector to have funds and other resources withdrawn both at national and local level. Additionally, if the position of our current Secretary of State for the Environment ( Liz Truss ) is concerned, one might almost conclude the issues surrounding our natural heritage are a dirty words. It seems that unless issues arising are connected with farming or food then they will receive no consideration, indeed, serious steps associated with neocotinids and the culling of badgers appear to be progressed despite a different mood in the country and in support of commercial practices despite advice to the contrary.

The Prime Minister appears to have little understanding or empathy with the countryside or environmental issues. Indeed, his Best Green Government Ever is little more than a joke and will provide a suitable epitaph on the Government's role in this respect, with an accomapanying big question mark of course..  Surprisingly, the past Labour Party Leader ( Ed Milliband ) has pledged that he will take up an active role in climate change matters which is welcome.

So might we see countryside matters rise up the agenda a little, which is more than welcome. Given Corbyn's intention to try and create an "inclusive democracy" the possibility that such concerns will also filter down into local politics is tempting to consider. Finally, the environment might receive its true desserts! Undoubtedly it will take time , but anything is better than the current atmosphere where "the environment" is seen to be little more than a commercial resource to exploited and abused. Let's be patient.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Outsiders update on the Spurn Visitor Centre proposal !

You could be excused for thinking the Visitor Centre proposal at Spurn had somehow disappeared into the ether, but you'd be wrong.  I suspect the silence is simply a product of efforts now being put into preparations that will eventually lead up to the planning application being submitted, on mopping up on PR problems that remain, and the sheer hard work that accompanies a major project being brought into being! In that context a YWT Project Manager has now been appointed. And it's also the family holiday season after all with all that that means for staff absences.

So nothing sinister, untoward or even unexpected.  The public meeting came and went, raised various problems and questions that doubtless will be being dealt with but, above all, provided the platform that now allows the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust to move forward in assembling the necessary details for the planning process. Few in attendance were convinced.  The designs have now been revealed  ( I still don't like the palisades!! ), the intent announced and I guess things will now enter into a bit of a vacuum until the late autumn.

Now, I believe the amount of opposition will grow as the usual visits to Spurn of birdwatchers from far and wide takes place this autumn in the hope of connecting with some notable drift migrants. This should be reflected in the signature total of the petition. That's to be expected and, doubtless, people will fall into two camps, those who are adamantly opposed or those who are pretty sanguine about the whole affair. Virtually all local residents are thoroughly against the proposal and their position is unlikely to change. Due to there being no compelling case for actual destruction or disturbance of wildlife ( a view not everyone will agree with, but it is difficult to construct a data-based case on those grounds ) , hence the reason why the RSPB and Natural England are sitting in the back seats of the stalls!

My view remains unchanged.  I genuinely worry the proposal has no future, to the extent that there should be decommissioning provisions within any planning permission that might be granted.  Jono Leadley ( YWT ) has been very helpful in going through the general background details and kindly set out the link on this Blog where such information could be accessed. Spurn between November and March inclusive is a "winter desert" and visitor attendance is minimal to the extent one doubts routine costs would even be covered. The first year's  "high" months of summer might see greater numbers of visitors initially, but will there be a repeat footfall, and will income sufficiently offset the barren times of winter?   Spurn sits to the south east of an underpopulated hinterland,  is 30 miles or so from Hull and similarly spaced from resorts to the north.  A glimpse of Withernsea's main street and its bargain stores hardly suggests it will be a productive source of visitors then faced with the prices for parking and Unimog journeys!   This is an exercise in common sense, not revolving on the precise location argument.   I understand the YWT's need to upgrade facilities since the breach and consequent loss of income, but this is not the solution in my view. I'm sure the curiosity factor and promotion of the new facilities to the YWT membership will result in sufficient visitor traffic in the first couple of years. Beyond that , I doubt it , and that's when the rot will set in.  Restricted opening times, periods of closure in's all the features of a closing down sale!  Whatever our feelings, the proposal will doubtless move forward to be considered within the planning process given YWT's obvious commitment to the idea.  I still believe a sensible option could be constructed around the Blue Bell complex, even if this can only be envisaged for 10-15 years !

If you have serious doubts about the proposal  this interim period can be used to good effect to put your arguments in order, which is precisely what I suspect the YWT  ( understandably ) will be doing too. Submitting your thoughts to the Planning Authority is a necessary step, although dispatching them off can probably wait until late October when the planning application might first be submitted ?   It's essential this time isn't squandered and that objections are put together so that they can be submitted as soon as the notice of the planning consultation is released.   So, it's essential they don't contain emotional remarks, are factual and have some semblance of argument within them. Simply stating the idea is rubbish is a waste of time!

I recently came across an article in a local group newsletter announcing the new Centre proposal and remarking what a fine idea it was. Well, I suppose such inevitable outpourings can be dismissed as sycophantic nonsense as clearly little thought had gone into the consequences of the Centre's  ( unnecessary ) presence, the feelings of local people, the financial implications or the fact that consideration of an alternative could release major resources for actual conservation work. But such reactions make the point that it's absolutely necessary for everyone to consider the wider implications and not simply fire from the hip and welcome what inevitably would, of course, be a "nice" new centre.

Clearly the situation is in a state of impasse and will inevitably be resolved via the planning process, which is perhaps how such things should proceed anyway. In the meantime, if you have doubts, then please use this time to prepare and honestly set out your opposition to something you believe is wrong.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Concerns relating to farmland birds.

The latest edition of BTO NEWS magazine has a fascinating article about the continuing decline of some of our farmland birds and the need for further research.  Some of the research carried out in the past has paid off and declines have either stabilized or reduced. Other species have not, such as the Skylark, Yellowhammer , Lapwing and Grey Partridge.

Since the 1970's the average decline in farmland birds is 62%. Some of the declines slowed after the 70's , but then have accelerated again in the last ten years.  The BTO has launched an appeal ( The Farmland Bird Appeal ) to generate funds for additional future research.  Support is ever critical and, if you're not a member, now is the time to step forward.

Contact can be made with the BTO via its web site ( ) or simply by contacting them by telephone, 01842 750050.  I've been a member for years and have never regretted the decision. It's research work addresses cutting edge problems , both at home and abroad, and helps in finding solutions to conserve the birds that we all take our enjoyment from.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Barn Owl bad hair day!

I'm beginning to wonder if this bird is haunting me!!  There it was first thing this morning dozing alongside the fence adjacent to the barn, the white down on its head waving around in the light wind. As I reversed the car to set off, it crouched deep behind the grass tussock and was surprisingly obscure.

Seawatching was somewhat disappointing with calmer conditions early and fewer birds on the move. Rather more Kittiwakes plied their way northwards, but both Gannets and Manx Shearwaters were in reduced numbers. Auks strangely enough almost exclusively were moving north prior to 0630 hours ( again, to  Colonsay one imagines ) but , then , things changed and birds moved southwards to feeding grounds we know exist off SW Islay. Actually little else occurred so , after 90 minutes, I started birding generally in the local area.

Several areas showed Common Sandpipers still to be present with some birds clearly feeding young. By contrast the screams of local Arctic Terns were non-existent, as if they had moved away already, contrasted to a couple of days ago. A few feeding House Martins were located yet gain , but try as I might I couldn't trace them back to their breeding sites, which would have been useful given the BTO Survey being carried out this year.  Already some young birds appear to be around  ( Meadow Pipit, Goldfinch, Stonechat (2nd broods ), Pied Wagtail ) but no warblers have been seen on the move as yet. Various people have expressed the opinion that the overall season has been about three weeks behind normal up here.

I spent a time watching for the Laughing Gull, but to no avail, ( with a similar stake out in late afternoon being unsuccessful) . This seems to link with the pattern previously when the bird only turned up for short periods and then left.

Late morning saw me at home preparing to be engrossed in my other passion at this time of year, the Tour de France. What an afternoon!  When I did return from checking out the Laughing Gull in the morning the owl was sitting out in the sun doing a lot of preening, followed by a period with its head on its chest taking yet another doze.  ( a bit like me after an early morning birding session ! ). Come mid afternoon it suddenly disappeared, so watch this space. What I can confirm is that there is still another one in the nest box as I could hear it snoring when I went to check for the "absentee" after being down at the harbour in the afternoon.  Strange neighbours!!!

Routine surprises. 24.7.2015.

At the point of setting out to go seawatching early this morning I opened the back door to find a young Barn Owl perched precariously on the edge of a water butt and staring at me intently. I ushered it off and it dropped onto the concrete apron between the house and the barn, but then "ran" with a rolling, high stepping gait into some long grass. I caught it up, surprised that it was so light and skinny ( the runt of the brood ? ) and put it close to the barn , but it had other ideas and disappeared round the corner into a nettle bed. And so ended the latest chapter in the Barn Owl saga.

At lunchtime I carefully peered around the corner of the barn, given both sheep and cattle had been feeding there. Not a sign , but then an adult ( the very white one ) shot out of the entrance hole into the barn's nest box and sailed off down the track. Strange behaviour, I thought, given everything had been done so quietly! I decided to leave them all to it, but kept an eye open at dusk for any signs. Not a thing !

Having finally got on my way just before six o'clock the next couple of hours sea watching were good , but not exceptional, and mirrored other occasions recently.  Just under 600 Manx Shearwaters flew south ( none north ) , as did a similar number of Gannets, although a few birds were plying there way northwards too. Doubtless all birds noted at the moment are on feeding movements, including the parties of Auks speeding their way southwards. A small number of Kittiwakes flew northwards, returning very probably to the breeding cliffs on Colonsay. Little other movement was in evidence other than of local birds ( Shag, Fulmar).
At a time when movements of waders are certainly ongoing, was of a single summer plumaged Turnstone flying south. the only evidence.  A bit surprising but making the anticipation of what is in store all the more enjoyable. A cast around the local area was equally frustrating except for a few feeding Sand Martin and House Martin. The latter are likely to be local breeders but an attempt to find out where proved impossible.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Our Greenest Government Ever has now turned its preferred colour to Gold!

What a joke, but what a tragedy.  As each week goes by it becomes infinitely clearer that this Tory Government has no interest in our natural environment , our natural heritage or anything that might be tinged with green, particularly Government policies. Where is that Greenest Government of yesteryear so loudly proclaimed by David Cameron ? In a nutshell, sidelined by the avowed contestant for the next position of Prime Minister, George Osborne, whose primary intention is to debase planning regulations and supportive policies for our environment in parallel with his functions as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

One wonders where the cuts will come in the £40 million spending review of DEFRA's budget. Natural England has already been cut to the quick and reduced to an emasculated caricature of its former self , so surely no further savings should be expected. But let's see!

In a fascinating piece on the Guardian website today, see this link Nine green policies killed off by Tory Government , Adam Vaughan and Terry Macalister reveal nine green policies that have been scrapped or are about to be.  Read the full details as it's an interesting article.

  • scrapping support for onshore wind projects
  • solar subsidies to be axed
  • biomass subsidies hit
  • the "green deal" killed off
  • selling off the green investment bank
  • reducing the incentive to buy a green car
  • giving up on zero carbon homes
  • fracking to be allowed in SSSI's 
  • goodbye to green tax target
Speculation is also rising about tidal power falling from favour and subsidies being withdrawn. And foremost amongst remaining contenders are offshore wind schemes, which are more costly than onshore facilities and already have a phalanx of critics.

A statement recently saying George Osborne was an astute politician was somewhat banal in my book. Stripping out Government expenditure to such a degree that it's inevitable the deficit will look more healthy in five years time is pretty superficial stuff, but will paint its architect in a favourable light. In the meantime our environment will be much the poorer and our heritage placed under siege, but certain people , the favoured minority, will be appreciably more wealthy either through relaxed regulation or enhanced opportunities. Such facilities encourage its constituents to worship enthusiastically at the altar of Mammon and ensure our Greenest Government Ever can rebrand itself and clothe everything in GOLD ( !!!!!! ) including Goldfinger George. He and others may yet have time to turn to more meaningful aspects of Government, such as a revocation of the Fox Hunting Ban as a token feature of countryside values. Where will it all end?

DEFRA lifts ban on neocotinoid insecticides.


With predictable coincidental timing the Government rushed through its announcement to allow oilseed rape seeds to be sown this autumn to be treated with the bee killing neocotinoid insecticides as MP's and their staff scuttered from Westminster for the summer recess. Admittedly the decision will only apply to 5% of the area where oil seed rape is grown. This , according to Government Minister George Eustace, is predominantly in Suffolk. Is it a coincidence , I ask , that the constituency of our Secretary of State for the Environment ( Liz Truss ) is South west Norfolk whose support for farming and cheese production know no bounds. Perhaps we should persuade her to engage with honey too.

Conservation organizations such as Buglife ( uk ) are outraged at the decision and feel it to be a flagrant disregard for our native wildlife and a convenient ignoring of rules we have in place to safeguard our environment.  DEFRA  maintains that , whilst they have applied the precautionary principle, there is still a lot of ambiguity about the evidence. One suspects that was lifted from a "Yes Minister" script.

Bombus terrestris.  John Mason courtesy of Buglife.

The National Farmers Union despite alluding to their original application for a ban to be lifted referring to a restricted area ( see farming press ) are now waxing large about what will happen to other farmers in other places, that the decision is too late and  " that future work is intended with regulators towards more efficient authorization ".

It needs to be remembered that , in 2013, the European Union placed restrictions on the use of these pesticides based on scientific research. Since then further research has reinforced that decision. The fact that these pesticides kill our pollinators such as bumblebees and honeybees, but also other useful insects, appears not to concern the self acclaimed Stewards of our Countryside who, along with others in the past also appear to believe they should aspire to "Special Case Status".  Uhm, well I'm old enough the remember the utter cock-ups surrounding pesticides in general use in our agricultural environments last time round and what it all resulted in. But , of course, those who plead necessity and  compromise will be nowhere to be seen when that day comes round.

Apparently the specific areas where use of this treated seed is to be used has not yet been determined but, according to the NFU,  it will be those areas where most damage has occurred previously. Whose running this show I wonder.  I also wonder if the Government's Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP ) will now be allowed to publish the Minutes of its meeting wherein the decision to advise the Government to uphold the ban was determined. To date the Government has refused to allow them to publish these or reveal other details. One imagines the decision to review the situation will conveniently be sidelined in the plethora of matters which will accrue over the summer recess.

In the meantime please continue to campaign for the blanket banning of these substances and raise issues relating to the above with your own MP ( as several of them who had inquired about the matter had not received any responses ).   Government at its best!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

In the end it was quite a laugh!

Having been away quite a bit this Spring opportunities to follow up , or even receive, details of what might be around have been a bit limited.  Since returning from Turkey my eldest daughter's hospitalisation and the need to keep abreast of developments have restricted "mobility" a little. Thankfully , all is now proceeding well on that front, if slowly.Similarly the  Spurn Visitor Centre has been a bit time demanding too.  For relaxation I've turned to seawatching , a favourite pastime at this time of year into late autumn of which there'll be more reports later I promise.

So, imagine my delight when, on Sunday evening I had a phone call from a friend to say that a strange gull was appearing from time to time at Portnahaven and was showing well. A scramble resulted in my missing it by minutes,but a photograph convinced me we were looking at Laughing Gull. Now we need to back track a little. This report had resulted from reports from "eagle eye " Ian Turner of Portnahaven, who' d seen the bird intermittently for around a month.  Such reports are not to be ignored ! The last I'd received was of a large bird that kept scattering the gulls around the village and proved to be, when I finally located it, a Gyr falcon. Such tips are the equivalent of 100 to 1 punts on outsiders given confidentially by the trainer involved and need to be taken seriously when Ian is involved!!

A long vigil yesterday morning and again in the afternoon produced nothing. A phone call later from Ian resulted in a scorch down to the village and missing the bird by minutes! A similar pattern today produced nothing but I thought I'd give it a try again this afternoon.  A necessity to park outside the toilets in Portnahaven was a questionable aspect ( has he a problem? ),but resulted in my eventually spotting the bird sail in.

It landed on some rocks after circling around a couple of times and spent its time preening. For no apparent reason it suddenly did various circuits around the harbour and then landed on rocks where it continued preening. It actually remained in situ for ages which is where I left it. Apparently this was the longest period it had happily spent in the area as its appearances have been haphazard, with no real pattern associated with them. Clearly there is another area ( several ) that it resorts to to feed and roost as its appearances here have been few and far between.

Hopefully these photographs ( I'm no photographer ) bring out a few of the diagnostic features. Bill shape, plumage characteristics, long legs,the long wings and attenuation. All in all , a great bird!!

What public relations manual does the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust use?

Recent days has seen various comments being made about the Visitor Centre proposal at Spurn. The public meeting held last Friday  ( yes... only three days ago now ) I felt was a good idea in that it would provide an opportunity to get a lot of the grumbles out of the way. Residents and others came away feeling that the YWT had at last heard about many of the issues which were concerning people. Not all , let it be said, due to time constraints, but such can be raised through other means.

It's never easy managing the timing and procedures of initiatives where polarized views are in place. Yes, it can get personal due to the passionate opinions held by opposing sides.  In this context it is therefore absolutely necessary for all concerned to try and attempt to be completely transparent, to be on the top of communications required and their timing and to be seen to be honest and fair. These principles have either been deliberately rejected or irresponsibly ignored in this instance and set the situation back once again.  It does raise the thought of whether the organizations involved are fit for purpose.

I missed the following news coming out last evening as I'm afraid I'm an early to bed , early to rise person and I'm not best pleased this morning at having , immediately ,to respond to the following and miss out on a sea watching session!!  Just imagine that within three days of an important public meeting a new set of plans emerge that finally show the visual impact of the tower associated with the development and the adoption of a boundary fence that would not have looked out of place around a fortified position in medieval times.

Is this really what the YWT consider apt public relations to be ?  Why was no mention of updated designs becoming available soon made at the meeting?  An announcement simply saying that new designs were imminent, but not yet completed, along with an accompanying apology would have gone a long way towards suggesting that the YWT was finally giving due consideration to the feelings etc of local residents. I suppose one might ask the simple question of why the designs weren't ready for the meeting ?  Such matters, timing and communication are matters that senior management should be in charge of. One can only conclude the issue of the plans by Salt Architects was based on a deliberate decision following their completion. But wouldn't you think someone might just have cautioned against it and suggested such was left for a few days given the seats in the meeting hall were still warm!!!   Incompetence, ignorance or just don't care?

Is this the structure anybody wants in a National Nature Reserve ? Given the apparent emasculation of Natural England in recent times it seems unlikely that any opposition , or even comment, will come from that quarter. From a design/planning viewpoint I'll offer one comment. If the development was centred on the Blue Bell complex the impact of the above "tower" could be minimized by it being sited adjacent to a gable end thus reducing the impression of the vertical impact.  I'm afraid these latest shenanigans, or sheer acts of incompetence,  leave me with a reducing recognition  for the YWT's position. Whatever the reasons behind the timing of these details being released the immediate conclusion of many will be either of incompetence or deliberate manipulation.  Little sympathy can be extended to YWT if a mistake has been made, but it is incumbent on them to make some effort to put things right. An absence of such will provide the answer and confirm what many have accused them of for a long time. Is that what they want?

What I don't want, and more adamantly than before, is the above structure at Spurn in the location suggested. I , too, am now utterly opposed to the location and will work towards it being rejected. As an immediate token of support please sign the petition by simply clicking on this link and entering your signature. Oppose YWT's Visitor Centre proposal.  591 signatures already....... more are needed. Thank you. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Barn Owl extra!

Last evening I'd been visiting friends down in the local village so it was a little after ten o'clock by the time I returned home. Up here that means it was still light, although beginning to become a bit dull and mist was forming in many of the hollows.

As I came up the track I scanned for owls but saw nothing. As I approached the house I could hear young Barn Owls "snoring" quite loudly. At first I thought at least part of this noise came away from the barn and was encouraged that these might be from the bird that had fledged away from the nest. Later I changed that view as it was obvious ( from within the barn ) that at least two youngsters were still in the nest box and very vocal.

Watching from the car an adult soon returned with prey, flying very deliberately in a direct line towards the barn. It landed on what is a small "step" at the entrance hole and immediately a young owl lunged out and grabbed the Field Vole. The adult bird then went in the aperture itself but soon came out and flew off.

So at least two youngsters remaining and clearly doing well. It might be speculated that the young bird found previously had found its way back to the nest as it was sufficiently independent to do so. Otherwise , with the weather conditions we've had since Saturday morning, I feel its chances of survival are pretty low. That said it's very encouraging to consider at least two young have been raised to this stage, possibly more!  More news later.

Serious questions raised about Eon's involvement in the Visitor Centre issue at Spurn.

Since writing a blog about the meeting relating to the proposed Visitor Centre at Spurn a further tranche of detail has been revealed, this time associated with the initiative's sponsor, Eon.

Eon, as a major commercial energy supplier, operates a Community Fund. Where it recognizes that communities have either experienced disruption due to the construction of wind turbines in their area ( construction traffic, noise piling activity and so on ) or lost a previously valued view of a local landscape, it offers "compensation payment" to the overall community to be used on facility provision locally, which is very laudable and positive.  Within such provisions it pledges community involvement in the choosing of schemes and acknowledges that any scheme should have the backing of the community.

Well it would seem such has not quite operated as closely to the guidelines as might be expected. In the above case, for example, over 90% of residents at Kilnsea village are against the proposal.  Similarly it seems the views of the community weren't tapped into as assiduously as one might expect. Eon maintain that they had contact with the local community on this specific matter, but the Parish Clerk maintains this was not the case. Whilst Eon apparently did have contact with the ERY Council, the latter asserts it advised Eon that the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust was very unpopular with the community and little expectation of a "buy in" to the proposal could be expected. This was apparently confirmed later by a Freedom of Information enquiry. Given that the "buy in" principle is claimed to be basic to the funding process something appears to have gone horribly wrong within the progression of this whole affair.  Time to start again ?

Little things mean a lot in rural communities as change is not as constant as in towns and cities. The assertion  by the Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust that  the Visitor Centre would be the making of the village has caused an upsurge of fury. For a village that was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, one that has a thriving pub ( not necessarily the case nowadays ), at least two caravan sites and bed and breakfast enterprises, it's not exactly dying on its feet.  The thought that the YWT was viewing itself as some latter day saviour has not gone down well, particularly in view of its poor reputation anyway, and demands to be publicly rectified to avoid the issue causing a rift.

Similarly the assertion by an Eon representative that the attendees at the meeting weren't representative of the opinions held by the majority of the local community is somewhat flawed. as the above quoted figure suggests. If matters are to move forward smoothly such opinions and public statements need to be fully explained rather than left hanging.

In my personal opinion much appears to have emerged at the meeting which requires attention and pretty quickly at that. The idea of providing an opportunity for grumbles etc to be aired was a good one and is generally felt to have met its objective. However,it would seem unlikely the views of the local residents will change dramatically because of newly emerged issues and their continuing opposition will lead to a costly demand on time and resources by all other organizations involved. I think I'd be thinking also of the potential aftermath should the proposal move forward as any form of local support and recognition in the future will be in short supply.  Again, does all this suggest a new start is required?