Saturday, May 9, 2015

A period of reflection.......

At 1100 hours today church bells rang out across the UK celebrating VE Day, the end of the Second World War, a conflict that had engulfed many nations across the globe.

I was born in the Second World War. Thankfully, my own father, despite serving in various places abroad, returned safely and our family enjoyed relatively untrammelled circumstances thereafter. Many didn't of course, indeed many millions from different nations never enjoyed a future at all.

After hearing a piece on television I went outside just before 1100 hours. Everything was silent, which didn't surprise me given the distance even the nearest church is located from the house. It would have been nice to have heard some token recognition, but perhaps the silence provided an even greater and more poignant. contribution than ever the tolling of a bell could do. It was warm and sunny and I looked up at the sky, threaded with occasional cloud, and reflected on what the last seventy years had brought myself.  Peace, an ability to travel widely, circumstances that ensured I have never been displaced, an opportunity to be involved in an all absorbing hobby and job..........much to be grateful for. Conflicts elsewhere most certainly , but none that have drastically affected domestic circumstances again in the UK.  Sadly those conflicts still remain in too many places elsewhere and replicate upon others the losses and misery the UK had experienced. A task remains to strive to achieve for others what we have enjoyed over these intervening years. Whilst we can never influence natural events, we should work even harder to ensure tolerance and understanding pervades everything and avoids completely the senseless activities which result in those affected being denied the opportunity to realise their own potential.

As I returned inside a Skylark sang above, a distant Lapwing called over the moor and a recently arrived Common Whitethroat rummaged around in some nettles. Timeless in many senses, but not for all.  I felt both sad and privileged. We most certainly have a need to be grateful in so many respects.  I was reminded of those immortal words below and was thankful to the many who had made this possible. Above all else it made me  understand yet again what "the ultimate sacrifice" really entailed for so many. Whilst the significance of all this is sometimes difficult to impart to succeeding generations we must strive nonetheless to ensure our gratitude remains undiluted.

When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For their tomorrow
We gave our today.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hen Harriers under siege again!

Within the last few days the news has emerged that three male Hen Harriers have disappeared in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire. All were associated with active nests on land owned by United Utilities, who support the work of the RSPB, which  has a staff presence on the company's Estate. Other sources report that, earlier in the season, birds arriving on other private estates within the Bowland massif  disappeared similarly.

Now let's set aside the weak sentiments and ill-disguised accusations of yesteryear and firmly point the finger at those responsible for the deliberate annihilation of these birds. There are clearly those amidst some of the private upland shooting estates,  a minority or otherwise, who are responsible for such persecution. Remember too that two birds "disappeared" in 2014 from the self same area. Forget food shortages, poor Spring weather and the plethora of excuses which have been offered on occasions in similar circumstances and acknowledge that these birds have been taken out deliberately by those who, with their continued accompanying slaughter of their managed quarry species, Red Grouse, can aptly be named  "The Pleasure Killers".

As I spent twenty years ( 1980-1999) overseeing the protection of Hen Harriers in Bowland the news saddens me enormously.  It is now 35 years since beginning that task and still no "lasting peace" is in place, indeed the national situation is worse than at that time.  The overall British population of Hen Harriers has been decimated within the last decade or so and the English population, of which Bowland's birds are a significant part, has almost been eliminated.

Since January 2012, when I altered the name of this Blog, I have written well over thirty entries relating to this problem. There is one piece in particular that I would very much like people to read  (please!).

2012  1st May.  "Hen Harriers in Bowland...........a lament".

That is almost three years ago to the day and summarizes the circumstances which prevailed in the 1980's and 1990's.  The current situation is absolute lunacy, has changed for the worse and demands that tolerance be set aside and a full scale assault  mounted on the problem.  The RSPB has secured significant funding for such work, a part of which I am sure will have been harnessed already to good effect. But is that enough? A duplication of past initiatives involving dressing up as Hen Harriers at country fairs and education visits should be set aside and a more focussed approach announced. As I've maintained on previous occasions this conflict is not just about curbing the activities of the "Pleasure Killers", this is a conflict with the Establishment within whose ranks the majority of grouse moor ownership rests.  There is no doubt in my mind that they view the presence of harriers and their  (overstated ?) depredations on grouse stocks as something they have no intention of tolerating. Compare the situation in the hey day of such Estates and the absence, then, of SSSI designations, access provisions, National Parks and wildlife legislation.  They feel squeezed within their own definition of personal independence and are reacting against what they see as impositions upon their "rights".  Maybe all this is not expressed publicly, but I'm damned sure that it's the position they're coming from.  Remember too, whilst employer estate owners might deny such, they are fully aware of such persecution through media reports  and do have the option of instructing directly their staff that any such activities do not occur as part of their duties.  This is part of the Vicarious Liability debate and provision, but how many moorland owners have we seen endorse such as sensible and condemn the continuation of raptor persecution.  Sorry, chaps, but your silence says it all in my book.

So, conservation organizations, what to do?   Well, get a bit street wise to begin with. This is not the subject of a debate within a Students' Union occasion , it's for real and will determine whether you're labelled in the future as having  "lost " Hen Harriers or not.   There is an almost immediate need to throw down the gauntlet ( Enough is really enough. ), publicise the intention and  then throw all resources available into the fray. I can, however, see why it's sensible to wait until after the election.  Incidentally, this shouldn't be via some limp-wristed statement calling for people to co-operate, but the announcement of a firm intention to locate , prosecute any miscreants and name and shame any specific areas where incidents occur. Play the long game and start "inserting people" into the appropriate local communities and shooting activities. It's time to throw out the Queensbury Rules and bone up a bit!  It has to be followed through and success obtained. The Investigations Section within RSPB does a tremendous job, if this means strengthening their ranks even further, then do it.   This is the sort of practical campaigning action  the membership expects , so tell them about it and not by some oblique reference, but in permitted detail. And if all this means suggesting to keepers and other contacts what I used to offer in the past that, if they chose to follow their own illegal route, then I'd enjoy smiling at them across the Court if ever we got to that situation. Do it and mean it!!

The above represents a difference between desire ( banning grouse shooting,  licencing shooting estates ) and immediate active intention. It's what people expect to see and if it extends into the need to set up a fighting fund, supported by members and others, then I genuinely don't feel people would refuse to come forward. But first, some results!!

In passing I've been asked why male birds can be singled out and deliberately targeted. When male harriers provision their female, ( who is busy incubating eggs or brooding young) , they tend out of habit to fly away from the nest on prescribed routes. Such is not a mystery, other birds do it too, for example , Red-throated Divers when leaving their lochans to go out to their feeding grounds at sea.  So anticipating where birds might be intercepted is not a difficult problem!!  The Pleasure Killers clearly know about it.  Think about it.    The declared intention of RSPB to put nests under direct protection where necessary almost dictates action by these people  is required elsewhere in order to avoid detection. Not a difficult thing to work out or even respond to!!

Again, in passing, may I leave a final thought for moorland owners ( although I doubt any read this Blog ).  Whilst working for RSPB in the 80's I was approached by an anonymous group who offered to set fire to a particular grouse moor if we felt it was necessary. I honestly don't know who these people were and adamantly refused their "help" as I've always maintained it's necessary to be squeaky clean!!  However, I make the point that there are people who feel like that and with the current , unresolved conflict, such as it is, there might be those who would be prepared to turn to such high-handed solutions.  I'd be utterly against such action, however desperate circumstances become. We don't want unilateral action. Such provides the strength to our own arguments against persecution at the present time. Let's not shoot ourselves in the foot, ( a metaphor which I'm sure even our most entrenched opponents will understand!!! ).

Saturday, May 2, 2015

More signatures needed in support of Nightingales.

This is something anyone can support. I've just signed although its highly unlikely I shall ever hear a Nightingale in Argyll in Scotland.  Listen too to the recording. It's not just remarkable to listen to but as a unique event in its own right.

Anything you can do to help........sign, support , promote , will be more than gratefully appreciated.

vDear Friends,
Singer Ziazan says: "Great news! Yesterday I went on a walk where I heard three or four nightingales and one of them sang back to me. We had a magical duet and then he flew away — I don't know if he was flying from me or the starlings who were making a fuss."
We are lucky to have Ziazan's support for the launch of National Nightingale Nights week which is today ! (2-9 May). See her remarkable video here:
Ziazan uses the ancient Bel Canto singing technique once popular across Europe, which enables her to ‘sing like a bird’ with trills and fast notes. Early operas were all originally designed for Bel Canto singers who used to sing ‘like Nightingales’ to demonstrate their prowess. Ziazan is now the only singer using this technique.
For me she is almost as incredible as the birds themselves. At times the bird is imitating her. Tradition has it that Nightingales used to duet or compete with human singers but this has long been regarded as the stuff of legend. Ziazan shows it to be true.
Have a look at our website for more videos, places to hear Nightingales and events to join.
We now only need the BBC's help to make sure everyone in the country gets to hear a Nightingale. Thanks again for signing - can you please now try to get at least one more person to sign maybe by showing them Ziazan's inspiring video ?
We've reached over 2400 - if we get to 6000 there will be one human for each singing live Nightingale in Britain.
Share this link to the petition:
Thank you

Chris Rose
We've reached over 2400 - if we get to 6000 there will be one human for each singing live Nightingale in Britain.
Share this link to the petition:
Thank you

Chris Rose

New warbler species in Central China.

Some good news for a change!!

Newly described species Sichuan Bush Warbler (Locustella chengi)

News items at

Per Alström, Canwei Xia, Pamela C Rasmussen, Urban Olsson, Bo Dai, Jian
Zhao, Paul J Leader, Geoff J Carey, Lu Dong, Tianlong Cai, Paul I Holt,
Hung Le Manh, Gang Song, Yang Liu, Yanyun Zhang and Fumin Lei (2015).
Integrative taxonomy of the Russet Bush Warbler Locustella mandelli
complex reveals a new species from central China, Avian Research, 6 (9)
doi:10.1186/s40657-015-0016-z (OA)

Full paper at

Best regards

Krys Kazmierczak


Update from Malta. Hunting season closed!

Only a little over a fortnight after the referendum which saw hunters' overturn a proposed ban on spring hunting the season has been closed advised the Prime Minister.  A continuation of illegal activities and two blatant incidents caused the peremptory action to be taken by Government. A teenager was injured by some irresponsible shooting and a shot Kestrel actually landed in a school playground.

It seems the previous warning by the Prime Minister that the referendum result was the final chance hunters would get has gone unheeded and in their arrogance they have brought on the situation themselves.  Full details can be seen on BirdLife Malta's website Spring shooting season closed.

It now remains to be seen what these actions result in as any further shooting might be deemed illegal and easy to detect. As a fully declared and actioned deterrent  it should be a signal to the hunters that their days of choice are numbered.  Unless they fully adhere to the law and cease any blatant exploitation of what had been a mandate to continue their activities their actions will undoubtedly have made many people who voted against the ban review the wisdom of their judgement!!  After all the majority which swung the decision was only 2200.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Barn Owl bonanza?

Well, as we all know, spring is the season for renewal, new life and the promise of better things to come. This was a picture taken through my kitchen window a couple of days ago which more than adequately confirms the sentiments.

It might all have ended there in a "local" sense until last evening. Avidly watching the first in a re-run of  "Foyles War", ( why not? ) it gradually became darker outside, but a westward facing window received the last vestiges of light, which lingered for almost an hour. Previous to the programme ending , so quite before 2200 hours, a Barn Owl left the barn and flew off around the house.  Now seeing Barn Owls, even when you have them in residence is a bit hit and miss to say the least.

Some three weeks ago, when my youngest daughter was staying, a late evening task retrieving washing from the yard was accompanied by shrieking and wailing calls from inside the barn. The owls often do this almost as an announcement process. In the confines of an enclosed barn the sound magnifies and it's a pretty scary experience if you're nearby. So, I knew at least one bird was around and new  pellets cast upon the floor confirmed a usage of the place, if not a regular one.  So last evening's confirmation was noteworthy in the sense of confirming a presence again.

Imagine my delight when the bird returned within twenty minutes! I turned off the TV ( political stuff by then ), sat in the dark and awaited the next move. The bird set off again in less than a minute, but returned again within the half hour, thankfully from the west so it was more than adequately silhouetted. Again it left shortly afterwards, but that then seemed to be it and I called it a day as the light was really beginning to fade towards 2300 hours.

So what to make of all this ?  I have had two birds sitting out in the barn once. Most times you go in and there is nothing. I don't know how true the story is, but it was once said that , when Bruce Campbell was conducting a national survey of Barn Owls in Britain for the BTO , he discovered at the end of the survey period, or afterwards, that he'd a pair nesting in the chimney of his own cottage. I'm sure you can already guess what my current thoughts are!  I'd be surprised if there are any young present given the paucity of sightings /evidence previously, but clearly there is a presence of birds and either "young" young or a very well fed owl partner!!  Yippee!! I don't want to explore matters yet as I'm nurturing a thought of entering the barn and seeing a line of youngsters on a beam. In the meantime, watching Barn Owls from the comfort of one's settee and raising a dram to their success is a rather civilized occupation in my view, at least within the commercial breaks of "Foyles War".

A different kind of Maltese hunter.

Last week I had the good fortune to meet a young man from Malta who is currently working for the RSPB on the Osprey project at Loch Garten.  It was lunchtime, and things were quiet, so we had a chat about a variety of conservation issues.  He told me that, as a young boy, his first sighting of an Osprey back home was followed soon after by the bird being blasted out of the sky by a "hunter".  A conservationist was born!!

His name is Nimrod Mifsud. Now Nimrod is not a name you come across very often so I was intrigued. The name, Nimrod, stems from the Aramaic, the language that was spoken  in the 1st Century AD at the time of Jesus. It is ancestral to both the Arabic and the modern Hebrew alphabets.  But it has even greater historical connections in that  Nimrod, King of Shinar ( son of Cush, the great grandson of Noah ) was, by reputation,  a great hunter.  ( I suppose there are other connections we could make too......the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod aircraft  and "Nimrod", one of Elgar's Variations! ). It seems there is good company around!  However, in the eyes of the wider world, being a "hunter" in Malta carries some rather negative connotations, but certainly not in this case!

Inevitably our discussions took us the way of the recent referendum held in Malta on the 12. 4.2015. Sadly the outcome was that Malta rejected proposals to ban controversial spring hunting during which migrating birds ( moving into various areas of Europe ) are shot before they can breed. There was only a 2200 majority with the outcome being 50.44% to reject the proposal and 49.56% to uphold it.  340,000 people were eligible to vote , including Nimrod who travelled home in order to cast his vote !!

Now Malta is not a large place, but it is the only EU country that allows spring hunting, ( so is the hunting I've witnessed on the Greek Islands in spring totally illegal? ).  Quail and Turtle Dove are the prime targets and, whilst stringent conditions apply to the hunters' activities, each successive spring sees a further toll being taken of plummeting populations throughout Europe.  Turtle Doves have reduced by 77% since 1980, a statistic that says it all. A major part of the blame for that loss must fall on Malta whether the hunters' claim of it being part of their traditions is recognized or not. Most of us have to move on and live in a modern world with more enhanced, civilized attitudes. The Prime Minister has warned that, despite the outcome, existing laws will be rigidly applied,  but this appears to have fallen on deaf ears as reports have already emerged of hunters operating illegally.

The above is by courtesy of work/b/martin harper/archive and a guest Blog relating to the outcome of the referendum which must be read. I find it a very impactive message and illustration.

So , what to do?  Despite the efforts of many ( BirdLife International Malta,  RSPB,  League Against Cruel Sports, Bill Oddie, Chris Packham ) the slaughter is set to continue. Can we help further? The first thing is not to lose faith and be as determined as ever to bring about positive change  I'm sure we can do this by putting ourselves behind initiatives drawn up in the future here in Britain, but also by responding to the recent call by BirdLife Malta to assist their future efforts by becoming a member. I'm sure they will be at the Bird Fair in August and I for one will be joining their ranks to assist in bringing about these outdated, selfish and pathetic activities. It remains to be seen what might be achieved via Europe, but as we all know we're at a bit of a threshold ourselves on this one at present besides the worrying review of wildlife and habitat regulations which is taking place at a European level.

In the meantime I suspect there is one Maltese "hunter" who will be pitching his efforts into bringing these mediaeval traditions to an end.  Nimrod, all strength and the best of luck with your endeavours on your return home in the autumn.