Friday, June 26, 2015

Slight pause in entries!

Circumstances dictate that I shan't be able to post Blog entries until after the 3rd July.  Bear with me as I've a long list of prospective entries that I'm sure will interest you!!  See you then.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Public meeting re proposed YWT Visitor Centre at Spurn.

As shown in the photograph below a public meeting is to take place on 17th July, 2015 to consider all aspects relating the the YWT's proposal for a new Visitor Centre at Spurn.

It will be chaired by Graham Stuart, MP.  This will provide an opportunity for questions to be raised, the answers for which will be witnessed by all and can be judged to represent a public record. No fudging, no bluster or changing tack to avoid an issue and, in so doing the occasion will provide a record of what will constitute the basis of the future planning application and a record of what can be questioned and examined further.  It will also provide an occasion when Eon can witness the communities' reactions to them supporting the project. Hopefully the proceedings will be recorded,  i.e. not just a written record, so matters can be referred back to in a literal sense later.

Given that some inconsistencies appear to have arisen within statements issued previously this is a once and for all opportunity for local residents of Kilnsea and Easington to air their opinions and grievances. The YWT have indicated that they have a number of updates to make available and these, and previous responses,can be examined further.  Hopefully everyone will come away with a clearer view of what is intended , knowing also that the situation is unlikely to undergo any further changes.

Thankfully the reported high handed way in which those opposed to the project have been dealt with will now be a thing of the past and the meeting can mark the onset of the proposal being examined in an open fashion.

Should you be opposed to the Visitor Centre but haven't yet signed the petition associated with the proposal may I ask that you do so without delay. Please read the blog from a few days ago ( 500 people can't be wrong!!! ) which gives further background detail , but also provides a direct link to the web site carrying the petition. With increasing opposition emerging it is important that this can be demonstrated on the above occasion. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Is our future Scottish mammalian fauna set to improve?

Earlier this month the report from Scottish Natural Heritage, "Beavers in Scotland", was submitted to Scottish Government Ministers for consideration of its recommendations. The report summarizes over twenty years of work associated with the species, including the monitoring results from the reintroduction project at Knapdale in Argyll shire which has been in operation for five years. Of course the latter are not the only Beavers in Scotland  as there is a free living population of around 150 animals along the River Tay, which has been monitored by the Tay Beaver Group.

Apparently SNH have provided Ministers with four options ranging from complete removal to widespread reintroduction of the species in Scotland. Submitted on the 12th June the final decision(s) are awaited. As might be imagined there are those who are jumping with joy at the prospect and those with more negative reactions. It goes with the territory so to speak!  I certainly hope the outcome is supportive of the continuing presence of the animals, whether there are accompanying management aspects considered utterly necessary or not. Alongside attempts to maintain vulnerable populations of animals, e.g. Wildcat, work to re-establish previous members of our past fauna is an entirely laudable goal in my view, although we perhaps have to accept that there are various aspects of management that may have to be in place.  Such animals have usually been lost due to habitat destruction or outright persecution based on irrational prejudice.

For those of you who would like to see the Beavers associated with the Knapdale project a series of walks are being held again this summer. On each Tuesday from the 30th June to 25th August and similarly on Thursdays up to the 27th August you can attend a guided walk, hear about the project and hopefully see a Beaver too. There's a need to book, but simply ring 01546-603346 and take a look at the website too ( )

The declared policy intentions of the Scottish Nationalists Party relating to land tenure in Scotland are also of parallel interest. Whilst such might be a long time coming, hopefully such a change would embody a little less of the "playing God" with our wildlife heritage in many areas than occurs at present, be it the eradication of mustelids, the "control" of Mountain Hares or the continuing persecution of birds of prey !! Perhaps the future is not so bleak after all.

A tale from a tired " insomniac".

Last night I stayed up until well beyond the wee small hours and am now paying the price!!  Why?  Well, at some point during yesterday afternoon I received an E-mail from Aurora Watch UK advising that overnight 22/23 June  there was a chance of seeing the aurora borealis ( Northern Lights ).  It was a Red Alert message ( the highest category of likelihood ) so with sandwiches made and a variety of TV programmes selected I commenced my sojourn, leaping up every fifteen minutes or so to carry out a check outside.

I now feel I could become an overnight broadcaster, a press preview expert and an advisor on the Greek financial crisis ! Of the Northern Light phenomenon there was no sign, not even in the optimum forecast period around 0300 -0400 hours. I confess I "faded" a couple of times and fervently hope I didn't miss the action as a consequence.  Having only seen this phenomenon once during living on Islay I can attest to it being something everyone should make an attempt to see. The colours and sheer majesty of the sky wide spectacle is absolutely amazing.  On the occasion it happened previously it was around Christmas and the range and depth of purple and green colours was fantastic......a far better experience than the solar eclipse also witnessed from here a little later.

Despite this disappointment I shall continue to try and would recommend it to everyone. Obviously the farther north you get the better your chances are, and there are issues with light pollution I guess too. Take a look at Aurora Watch UK  and also and sign up for alerts if you want to try it for yourself. The latter has access to NASA's ACE spacecraft as well as receiving data from a network of magnetometers worldwide. There's an image on their home page showing the current level of activity and a short term forecast too, including details of kp numbers ( planetary index ) .  Don't know your kp number? Here's your big chance and an opening to a lifetime's absorbing pastime. Best of luck!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Questions to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Last Thursday ( 18th June ) I watched the televised proceedings involving questions being put to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (  Liz Truss ) and her team ( George Eustace and Rory Stewart ). The Labour Shadow Team in place were Barry Gardiner, Caroline Flint and Angela Smith.

Having watched on previous occasions I was encouraged by the number of MP's in attendance which certainly exceeded totals on many previous times within the Coalition Government's term of office. As ever there was a wide ranging series of questions covering air pollution , flood defence, Broadband services in rural areas , farm subsidies and so on.  Given Liz Truss's previous promotion of international food fairs , cheese, farmers' markets and the like one could have been forgiven for thinking the Department was moving towards being a resurrected Ministry of Agriculture!  Whilst such support has clearly not gone away there was a much more balanced approach in evidence out of which came a couple or more useful snippets as to subject areas we might hear more about.

Asked whether she favoured the position of her predecessor, Owen Paterson, an out and out denier of matters relating to climate change, or the views of the Pope, she emphatically endorsed the latter. I was impressed by such an unequivocal declaration , but what it will mean in practice is anybody's guess. It suggests we're moving in a positive direction at last!

As far as the Hunting Act is concerned she outlined her support for a free vote taking place in Government time on whether or not it ought to be repealed. Interesting times ahead.  Whilst the confirmation isn't new or unexpected she confirmed that a pilot vaccination programme will occur in areas affected by TB and that further culls would be carried out of Badgers in the future.

Two questions arose relating to bees and neocotinid usage. As usual there was much referral to a National Pollination Strategy, bee habitats, the evidence relating to pesticide use being incomplete but that restrictions on usage were not yet lifted and so on. As ever the promise of reviews, "further consideration " and the like emerged. There was nothing that was unequivocal, set out in black and white and easily followed as far as I could see. More worryingly was some mention of two applications made via the National Farmers Union that were held to be confidential and commercially sensitive  ( and so we learned nothing about them!! ). The HSE are involved and one suspects there is request for limited use of some pesticides or another.  As an example of the sort of thing that does go on the House learned that some commercial operators using polytunnels to grow crops purchase hives of bees and then destroy them at the end of the season.  Clearly there's much to keep abreast of on this subject still!!   And it's all done in your best interests, folks. Really!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Bird migrants and large cities.

Many years ago I can remember flying into Los Angeles and realising that the ambient light from the city and its suburbs spread from horizon to horizon.  Once you see the phenomenon you realise how much light pollution we cause and how much energy we squander.

Whilst in New York my interest in the self same subject was alerted and began again when, shortly after 0530 hours one morning on my way to Central Park , I found a dead Veery in the street near my hotel. Some sympathetic soul had actually laid it out on top of one of those silver coloured bollards and ensured all its feathers were in place. Serene, beautiful, but a victim no doubt of high rise buildings and light pollution ( or confusion).   Looking around New York I became quite intrigued in the subject of collisions by migrants over the  few days I was there.

Now New York is undoubtedly a unique place compared to many others but, increasingly, many other large cities and capitals are "going vertical" as the pressure on space continues to grow.  The photographs on show were all taken by my daughter Rachael incidentally. This is looking south and I suspect is taken from the Empire State Building . Now how to navigate around and beyond such a confusing array of buildings particularly if they're swathed in bright lights?

Some real concerns have been expressed about the problem resulting this very Spring in arrangements being made in New York State to shut off the lights late at night until dawn.  A press release from the BBC news provides some background  (  City lights switched off for migrants. ).

It's a fascinating thing to consider but , also , to try and put yourself in the place of a bird on the move.  The picture below is taken from the top of the Rockefeller building ( 63 floors in 43 seconds by lift!! ) at dusk or just before.  It shows Central Park to the north as a dark expanse of ground. Hardly surprising that migrants pour into the area to find sanctuary , rest and food after battling their way northwards. By then they've avoided some of the worst high rise estate , but not all. Some , like the Veery don't make it.

Certainly then measures to militate against such strikes are welcome.  By way of becoming impressed by the abilities of birds to find their way around and to fly around high buildings, admittedly in daylight, take a look at this film clip. It's absolutely mind boggling!!

World record eagle flight.    Cancel out the commercial bits at the begining and enjoy!!!!!

A first reflection on New York.

If you can make it there
You'll make it anywhere
It's up to you
New York, New York.

Whilst I'd been through New York on several occasions, I'd never stayed there. In May that chance occurred with the wedding of my son, Matthew, being held in Central Park on the 15th . I'm no longer a city person and confess to being  both excited and apprehensive at what might be in store. Matthew and I actually managed a couple of birding sessions in Central Park, met a few American birders and, I have to confess, I thoroughly enjoyed it. One of the things I wanted to see in Central Park was John Lennon's memorial, so here we were at "the famed spot" at 0600 hours one morning, only just previous to some of the wannabes who provide a continuous flow of Beatle songs later.

Whilst I was brought up in the "Beatle era" this visit carried a far greater significance than I've ever really revealed previously. I actually judge the lyrics of the song " Imagine" to be the closest thing to a religious creed that I could embrace and hope that, one day, we can all achieve the heartfelt hopes it contains. .  For me a very memorable experience accompanied, a little later , with some good birds , including Scarlet Tanager.    Running close seconds were a couple of Bay-breasted Warblers, Chestnut and Canada Warbler and Magnolia Warblers.  Later we managed to locate high on the roof of a building on the Park's perimeter the famed pale male Red-tailed Hawk. Oh yes, excuse the holiday birding gear!!

If you're travelling through NYC at a suitable time of year Central Park is certainly a fascinating place to visit with some really good birding habitat  ( the Rambles for example.). I suspect you need to research things well though as, perhaps surprisingly, it doesn't carry an extensive list of breeding birds.

The second place I'd have like to have seen, but didn't manage it, was the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, haunt of Dylan Thomas.  Thomas appears to be far more popular in the USA than in Britain and has featured extensively in school syllabuses there. Now far from you running away with the idea that I'm a big fan of poetry, or of Thomas for that matter, perhaps I should explain the situation. Not all that long ago I came across for the first time that epic poem by Thomas, perhaps even his greatest,

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I then came across a reading of the full poem by Thomas himself and was bowled over by the power and meaning of those few verses.  Whilst Thomas was no Saint he was certainly a very gifted man of words ( and sounds ) and I suppose I simply wanted to pick up on some of the atmosphere associated with a fascinating man. A heavy drinker, a volatile temperament, but bedevilled by ill health , he died at the early age of 39 years whilst in New York. It would have been good to raise a glass to a very remarkable talent!!

I suppose the above poem can also carry with it a motivating aspect that urges, you in later life, not to squander any of the precious time bestowed on us, besides the other more complex elements of its content. On each reading I, for one, am encouraged to be "raging" anew. 

Now you'll have to bear with me as these Blog entries are no longer synchronized to date. I've either to work through a backlog or to insert some entries in amongst current ones. I've chosen the latter. When I returned from America I spent some time down in Norfolk but have chosen to leave out completely the now rather dated entries that would refer to that time. The odd extra American entry I guess can "survive" on a stand alone basis.

Over five hundred people can't be wrong !

Recently the petition Say No to Spurn Visitor Centre (  click and sign please! ) asking people to oppose the YWT's proposal to locate a large, new visitor centre at Spurn has enjoyed increased support and now has 549 signatures.  The sterling efforts of local people at Kilnsea and Easington has brought about a wider promotion of the problem and enjoyed a deserved success.

The above is one example of banners which have been erected in the local area. In this case there is an ulterior motive for choosing this particular image!!    It's erected on what might be described as part of the "complex" which comprises the Blue Bell ( owned by YWT and formerly operated as a Centre and cafe ) and the adjacent property which, as you can see , is for sale.  This is the location that is generally accepted as the most suitable site for an upgraded, modest Visitor Centre. To read more about the background to the issue please read the Blog entries I put out on 17th Jan., 26th Jan., 29th April and 30th April.

I have no objection to the Trust considering that new and improved visitor facilities are needed at Spurn. I believe they are, but that their current solution of an all singing and dancing Visitor Centre is flawed, is in the wrong location and, worst still, is a "white elephant" in the making.  I doubt very much indeed that such would have even entered their thoughts had it not been for the availability of funding via Eon's  Community Fund designed to "compensate" local communities for the largely visual disruption caused by new infrastructure.  Enter the YWT with a proposal involving a built structure that will blight part of a National Nature Reserve, at least in my opinion and that of many other people.  Should the proposal proceed it will result in an edifice to failure! Virtually non existent visitor traffic in winter and reducing numbers at other times coupled with a very limited potential for additional facilities likely to attract repeat visits make for a somewhat dubious business model.  It should also be said that the aspect of Eon squandering money comes into the equation too. A more modest "refurbishment proposal" would release money for conservation works that have never appeared to be in the forefront of management practice over the years, indeed such a need for funds is something that the Trust itself maintains is needed and that will be satisfied from the increased income derived from the presence of a new Centre.

And so the Trust insists on its stubborn pursuit of a scheme, doomed to failure by many, in the hope that it will generate a similar level of income as that previous to the Spurn Peninsula being breached.  Occupying such a position inevitably demands that those promoting the cause openly acknowledge the case of the "opposition" and work closely, patiently and co-operatively to achieve a solution. Sadly the strategy adopted is more 1950's than New Millennium management with communication being poor,  local staff being unpopular and divisive and techniques being employed that could be judged to be immature at best!! Erasing critical comments or those exposing inadequacies on one's website is a good indication of weakness and insecurity and hardly inserts rationality into the proceedings!

So what to do?    Sign the above petition, please!!  Later, once the matter moves under the jurisdiction of the Planning Authority, please be prepared to write a letter of objection and do so in heartfelt terms.  Above all else, occupy the high ground and openly and genuinely express concern about what an increasing number of people are questioning as a proposal we all feel is simply not right, sensible nor adequate. Thank you.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A slight delay!

What's the worst thing that can beset you when returning from a birding holiday or similar and wanting to bring everything up to date?   I suppose computer failure would figure pretty high up the list, but smashed reading glasses come close!  All is now resolved other than more Blogs than ever to catch up on, more E-mails to respond to and generally more to do than otherwise might have been the case.

Such is life!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A quick update!

I'm now back on Islay after a period in New York and a longer period in Norfolk ( UK ). As ever my ability to have efficient on line access was not what it should have been and an unfortunate lapse in entries has occurred again.  Apologies!!

As a result I've an absolute fund of material I want to commit to Blog entries.  I can't determine an easier way to deal with these other than in date order and then set out the more subject based entries once I'm up to date. Bear with me please.....apologies again.